HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - As leaders with Henrico County Public Schools were busy working on new graduation plans for the Class of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, one Henrico school was busy giving its seniors the recognition they deserve.
For many schools across the county, the hustle and bustle inside the buildings, hallways and parking lots have now been replaced by the simple clank of flag poles.
“It's definitely hard being away from all of my friends," said Glen Allen High School Senior Sean Bonner.
Bonner, like many other seniors, won’t be able to finish his final year on campus, or even on the baseball field.
“All offseason we were out there on the field doing stuff... we had a pretty good team this year,” Bonner said.
Despite the COVID-19 upheaval, some seniors opted to get jobs during the pandemic.
“Picked up a job as an essential worker at Kroger to pass the time,” said Glen Allen High School Senior Barrett Stuckey.
However, a few weeks ago, Stuckey had to return to hitting the books.
"Now we've got AP exams; so, we had to get back to schoolwork," he said.
Typically, those exams are followed by graduation and the ceremonial walk across the stage. But for the class of 2020 that will not happen.
“I’ve actually thought about the kids that are taking U.S. History [in the future], they may be writing about it on an AP exam one day,” Stuckey said.
“I know they’re disappointed, I know they’re heartbroken, but they’re positive; they’re optimistic and they’re understanding,” said Glen Allen High School Administrator Barbara Bonner. “I just really appreciate that outlook from them.”
As a way to show that appreciation for the more than 400 Glen Allen High Seniors, the PTSA moved forward with footing the bill for yard signs which read, “Congrats Glen Allen Seniors, Class of 2020”.
"They felt it was the least they could do for the circumstances they're in," said Michele Sawyer, a GAHS parent who helped organize the effort.
"They deserve to be celebrated after 13 long years," Bonner added.
During the first week in May, more than 250 seniors picked up their signs at Crump Park.
"It was so therapeutic, so enjoyable to see our students, to see our families and just to see those smiles," Bonner said.
"I was excited!” Stuckey said. “I live in the Deep Run district, so it was cool to have a ground sign."
"The community that has been built here is really working towards recognizing the seniors and contributing towards a sort of mock graduation," said Nikolas Dore, a Senior Representative with the GAHS PTSA.
For seniors at Glen Allen who have not yet picked up their signs, you can contact the school to inquire how to receive one.
"We know what we can't do, but what can we do was really the motto behind this," Sawyer said.
While the signs may not replace the traditional graduation ceremony, Henrico County Public Schools has put together a three-part celebration offering a virtual graduation ceremony, to a once in a lifetime experience with a trip around the Richmond Raceway!
"We are greatly appreciative of all the work the staff has put in as far as recognizing us as a senior class,” Dore said. “Despite the circumstances, I am still glad they are working for the seniors."
“The 2019-20 school year has been one of the most memorable in history,” an HCPS news release said. “Graduation exercises for the Class of 2020 will be, too. The ongoing public health emergency will not stop us from celebrating this amazing group of young people — their achievements, their memories and their contributions to the Henrico County community.”
A graduation ceremony watch party will be held on June 8-11.
“It will include many of the elements of a traditional graduation, such as student speeches and remarks from local dignitaries,” HCPS said. “It is during this event that our seniors will be officially pronounced “graduates.” Most important of all, our seniors will each have a well-earned moment in the spotlight during a video slideshow. Graduates’ names will be announced ceremoniously as their photos are shown.”
The virtual ceremony will be simulcast on cable television and social media.
The second part of the celebration involves the Richmond Raceway and its short track for a “Graduation Victory Lap.”
“Seniors graduating from our high schools will arrive in decorated vehicles (one vehicle per graduate, nine-passenger limit) and be directed to the track by a Richmond Raceway pace car,” HCPS said. “Once in “pole position,” you’ll be able to tune into HCPS’ student radio station to hear “Pomp and Circumstance” (and possibly other special messages!) while cruising toward victory lane. Principals will be there to wave the checkered flag as each graduate crosses the finish line while their names are announced in front of school faculty members and local dignitaries.”
Only graduates and their immediate family members will be allowed in the vehicle.
The Graduation Victory Lap dates and times are as follows:
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10 (these schools have their “watch parties” on June 9)
- 10 a.m.: Deep Run High School
- 1 p.m.: Mills E. Godwin High School
- 4 p.m.: Douglas S. Freeman High School
THURSDAY, JUNE 11 (these schools have their “watch parties” June 10)
- 10 a.m.: Glen Allen High School
- 1 p.m.: Hermitage High School
- 4 p.m.: J.R. Tucker High School
FRIDAY, JUNE 12 (HSHS, VHS, HHS have their “watch parties” on June 11; AVR has its “watch party” on June 8)
- 10 a.m.: Highland Springs High School
- 1 p.m.: Varina High School
- 4 p.m.: Henrico High School
- Approximately 5:30 p.m.: Academy at Virginia Randolph
Saturday, June 13 is a scheduled rain date.
The third part of the 2020 Celebration includes a cap and gown photo session.
“Our graduates will pose in their caps and gowns, accepting their diplomas, in individual photos by our professional photographer,” HCPS said. “Each graduate will have a time scheduled just for them to come to school to receive his or her diploma and pose for an iconic picture. HCPS will cover the cost of one 8-by-10 print for each graduate!”
The specific day and time for these photo sessions will be communicated by each school. More details about the graduation exercises will be announced in the weeks ahead.
“There is no denying the disappointment we all feel at not being able to gather at VCU’s Siegel Center in June to watch our seniors parade across the arena floor in person,” HCPS said. “But the legacy of this class will always be, “they did whatever it took” — and that includes graduation.”
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