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YouTube, parades, empty audiences: 2020 graduations look different

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The class of 2020 is celebrating its graduation with a patchwork of locally devised ceremonies, celebrations and socially distanced processions — an unusual ending to a long academic journey.

As state officials continue to cap outdoor gatherings at 25 people to prevent the spread of COVID-19, traditional graduations are all but impossible. Schools have since moved forward with alternative events.

But exactly how seniors will take hold of their diploma likely depends on their ZIP code.

Wake public schools

The Wake County Public School System allowed each school to make its own decision about graduation, resulting in several different plans.

“We’ve asked every high school to facilitate an in-person event that will allow a receiving of a diploma while following the current health guidelines,” said Superintendent Cathy Moore on May 15. “Our principals are really figuring (graduations) out with their students and their staffs at their schools.”

Knightdale High School held individual ceremonies for each senior over two days last week. Students dressed in full graduation regalia and crossed the stage to receive their diploma, with only eight guests in the audience. The school will have a larger virtual graduation Tuesday, June 9.

North Wake College and Career Academy held a diploma pickup last week. Students wore caps, gowns and face masks, took pictures with their teachers and received yard signs celebrating their achievement.

East Wake, Heritage and Rolesville high schools will hold virtual graduations next week. Faculty, staff and student speeches will be prerecorded and edited into a video along with student recognitions.

East Wake is allowing students to walk across a stage with four guests in the audience while Heritage will show student photos and calling names.

Wakefield and Wake Forest high schools are hosting car parade diploma distributions. Wakefield students will drive up to receive their diploma, then move forward to other stations where they can take professional pictures with family and friends.

Wake Forest’s seniors will follow a similar procedure, including professional pictures at the final station.

Private, charter schools

East Wake and Franklin academies are holding prerecorded graduations that include all the trappings, including speeches and tassel turnings. East Wake Academy will stream its edited video Thursday to its students and their families.

Franklin Academy plans to hold a drive-in viewing party at Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre in Vance County, following the theater’s social distancing policies.

North Raleigh Christian Academy held an in-person graduation ceremony at its football stadium Wednesday. However, it limited the number of people who can attend to just graduates and their families. It also followed social distancing measures, officials said.

Corinth Holders High School is hosting a drive-in ceremony on June 26 for all graduates and is planning holding smaller, more traditional graduations between July 29 and Aug. 1.

Lighthouse Christian Homeschool Association canceled its graduation ceremony. Originally, the association had planned to push the ceremony back to later in the summer, but the church that usually hosts the ceremony has canceled all events until July, according to association officials.

Students will still receive diplomas and souvenir programs, listing their names and brief biographies.

Franklin County Schools

Franklin County Schools will be streaming virtual graduation videos for each school on June 13 at 10 a.m. on YouTube, according to a press release.

“We have worked hard to make sure that seniors receive the recognition they deserve,” Lela Baldwin, chief of academics, said in a statement. “We hope to provide each senior with a graduation experience that allows a time for you to be celebrated while adhering to guidance regarding social distancing.”

Each senior will be given a designated time to walk across the stage and receive their diploma. They are allowed four guests.

Seniors will get a DVD copy of videos and photos.

“We understand that this is not a traditional graduation experience,” Baldwin wrote. “Despite our current situation, Franklin County Schools is committed to providing you with a graduation experience and an opportunity for our community to recognize and celebrate the class of 2020.”