By Tia Lynn Ivey
With the coronavirus pandemic still sweeping across Georgia, the rest of the country and the entire globe, millions around the world are faced with difficult decisions on how to keep on living safely and responsibly. Those decisions sting most when long-awaited milestone moments must be postponed, cancelled or reworked. That is the case for this year’s crop of graduating Morgan County High School Seniors.
Every year, graduating seniors walk across the Bill Corry Football Stadium field in front of a packed audience, comprised of their families, friends, educators and peers. Years of academic discipline and achievement culminates with the graduating class tossing their tasseled caps high in the air while cheering. But not this year.
The 210 graduating Morgan County seniors will graduate and will be celebrated by their families and educators, but only one at a time. Large gatherings, like a traditional graduation ceremony, put too many people at risk to contract and/or spread the COVID-19, the highly-contagious and potentially lethal upper-respiratory coronavirus which has claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Georgians to date, and more than 64,000 lives nationwide, since February. So this year, the school system is providing “personalized” graduations for each graduating seniors and their families.
School leaders had to think out of the box to balance the safety of the students and their families with the need to celebrate this momentous occasion.
Morgan County Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Woodard and Morgan County High School Principal Dr. Miki Edwards announced the school system’s graduation plan last week in a video announcement on Facebook.
“It’s a One Morgan graduation, but one graduate at a time,” said Edwards. “Seniors, we have developed a plan where each one of you will be dropped off at the flagpole entrance and have the opportunity to walk up Main Street in the building and then have your name called as you walk across the large, fully decked out graduation stage outside in front of these columns to receive your diploma and hear congratulations from administrators, counselors, and board members. As you leave the stage, there will be a photographer to capture the turning of your tassel and your first official picture as a graduate. Each graduate’s personal ceremony viewing will last four minutes, which is much longer than you would normally have crossing the stage. This will allow for lots of close up photos. The entire event will be recorded and produced so that the ceremony can be shared far and wide with family and friends. This will be particularly important to those families who have loved ones who cannot safely travel or attend. All of the traditional aspects of graduation will be captured in the recording, such as speeches and comments,” explained Edwards. “Because it is important to us that you have as many people safely attend and celebrate you as possible, graduates may have up to four vehicles of family and friends park in front of the stage where they may get out of their vehicles to see, hear, and photograph you walking across the stage and receiving your diploma. This will allow more people to attend than if there were a smaller ceremony attempted in the stadium. For many of your elderly guests, this will be safer and easier as well. This will be a personal ceremony for each graduate and their families – and with a better view than ever before. Because of the time that will be allotted for each graduate, the ceremony will take place over three days – Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of graduation week. Because we know that pictures on the football field are important, we are working to have appointment times set up for several evenings before graduation for you to come and have your picture taken and for family photo opportunities as well.”
Woodard stressed his dedication to ensuring graduating seniors are recognized and celebrated as they graduate from Morgan County High School.
“I’m committed to provide something special for our seniors and their families,” said Woodard. “This plan allows us to create a very special moment for you and your family. It also allows us to comply with the intent of current state ordinances while not trying to project what might come next and having to continue shifting plans. The longer we wait the more of a chance that some students will not be around or even be willing to participate. The emotions of this time period for our seniors will fade away and we take the chance of not having a graduation that is meaningful for the entire senior class. Surrounding systems are trying everything from a rescheduled date to a virtual delivery with no hope of a traditional celebration. We will have the best of the worlds we can have during this time – A personalized graduation event with pomp and circumstance celebrated with your family while minimizing the risk of spreading the virus.”
Woodard and Edwards lamented the loss of a traditional graduation ceremony as well as the loss of the latter half of the school year, but remain determined to make the best out of a bad situation.
“The year 2020 will go down in history as one marked by great change in our world. These changes have impacted us on a global, national, and local level,” said Edwards. “For you, as the class of 2020, it has been very impactful to you on a personal level as you have lost out on many of the experiences that you expected to have as a graduating senior from Morgan County High School. We recognize this and mourn with you.”
“I pray that you will hear our hearts and know that we are doing the best we can under the conditions presented to us,” said Woodard. “I have repeated two phrases over and over during this time: ‘less is more’ and ‘we have to work/learn differently than normal.’ While I don’t expect this to be the normal forever, it has proved to be a new normal longer than anyone projected. Our focus today is to provide the best of the new normal we live in and pray that this new normal will pass us soon. Thank you for understanding and we look forward to seeing you on your graduation day – One Morgan – But One Graduate At a Time.”
Seniors and their families will received personalized letters next week outlining the specifics of each senior’s personalized graduation celebration.