It’s been a trying time for students across the country as their school year was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it has been especially hard on seniors, whose graduation ceremonies have been up in the air.
Rockingham County Public Schools announced that seniors will get their special day, even if it’s not the way they or their families imagined going into the school year. Because of social distancing, and orders from Gov. Ralph Northam that no gatherings have more than 10 people, a traditional ceremony was out.
The school division did consider waiting and having a traditional ceremony in July or August once the state enters Phase Three of reopening, said Superintendent Oskar Scheikl.
However, the uncertainty of that plan, coupled with the fact that the school division’s small number of seniors joining the Armed Forces would not be able to attend later in the summer, led to the nixing of that option, Scheikl said.
Presented with two choices from the school system — a drive-in graduation at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds or an abridged ceremony —a majority of seniors from each of the four high schools and Massanutten Technical Center agreed they wanted the drive-in option. There, groups of seniors will take turns walking across the stage while still obeying a 6-feet separation rule.
The split was about 60/40, Scheikl said, with each school favoring the drive-in option.
“Some parents complained that that we didn’t ask the parents,” Scheikl said. “And some said we should simply have a traditional outdoor ceremony, but I’m not going to go against the Governor’s orders.”
Each high school, and MTC, has a different graduation time spread over two days — June 5 and June 6.
Assistant Superintendent Doug Alderfer worked with the fairgrounds to arrange the equipment and logistics needed to pull off this unique graduation, Scheikl said.
While most graduations cost around $30,000, this year there will be an additional cost because the school division is providing each senior with a picture of them crossing the stage and a DVD of the ceremony, free of charge.
“We hope this event will allow seniors to be ‘together’ to celebrate the conclusion of their high school experience,” Scheikl said.
Here are the dates and times for each school:
• June 5 at 2 p.m. — Massanutten Technical Center
• June 5 at 6 p.m. — Spotswood High School
• June 6 at 10 a.m.— Turner Ashby High School
• June 6 at 2 p.m. — Broadway High School
• June 6 at 6 p.m. — East Rockingham High School
Here are additional important details:
• Due to capacity constraints, families will be permitted to have three cars per graduate.
• There will be two parking sections, one for vehicles with a senior riding and one for family and friends.
• Ten at a time, seniors will be called from their vehicles. While staying 6-feet apart, seniors will cross the stage as their names are called to pick up their diplomas.
• Everyone else is to remain in their vehicle. A professional photographer will be taking pictures of each of the graduates, which will be provided to families at no charge, along with a DVD of the ceremony.