By Tia Lynn Ivey
Morgan County High School’s Class of 2020 graduated last week. About 210 seniors received diplomas and praise over the course of a three-day non-traditional graduation ceremony.
To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, each graduating senior was celebrated “individually” at the high school, among their family, teachers, school faculty, and even their pets.
“On behalf of the faculty and staff of MCHS, congratulations and we can’t wait to see what you do! It has been a privilege to be a part of your journey,” said Dr. Miki Edwards, principal of Morgan County High School. “Godspeed.”
“The graduation event was absolutely wonderful,” said Dr. James Woodard, superintendent of schools. ”From all indicators, students and parents were appreciative of the planning and execution by Dr. Edwards and her team.”
Dr. Edwards expressed lessons learned during this unprecedented graduations amidst unprecedented times.
“Hats and masks make excellent covers for tears of joy!” said Dr. Edwards. “Watching the families with their graduates makes us smile really big under those masks, too.”
“We didn’t realize the impact of the unique privilege witnessing families celebrate with their graduates would have on us! This is has been so very sweet to watch,” said Edwards. “Our faculty and staff volunteers have enjoyed the opportunity to be more of a part of facilitating graduation by interacting (safely!) with graduates and their families.”
The graduation also included a walk down “Memory Lane,” in which staff and volunteers constructed a “Main Street” filled with nostalgic photos and memories for the graduates to walk through as part of the graduation festivities.
Morgan County High School’s video teacher, Tom White, compiled a complimentary video of the graduation, including all the speeches with photos and footage for all Morgan County seniors and their families to enjoy for free.
Once it became clear that the coronavirus pandemic would prevent a traditional crowded graduation ceremony at the Bill Corry Football Stadium, school leaders scrambled to find a way to honor the academic achievements of Morgan County High School’s graduating seniors. 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.
“It’s a One Morgan graduation, but one graduate at a time,” said Edwards in a video announcements of the new graduation plan earlier in May. “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 4 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.
Woodard believes the individual graduation plan was the best way to ensure graduating seniors and their families felt celebrated and appreciated.
“This plan allows us to create a very special moment for you and your family, said Woodard in the original video announcement. “We will have the best of the worlds we can have during this time – A personalized graduation event with pomp and circumstances 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.