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Traditional graduations return to conclude school year marked by pandemic
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Traditional graduations return to conclude school year marked by pandemic

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Tammy Hayman, a counselor with Newton-Conover High School, is looking forward to returning to a traditional graduation event in the football stadium after a year of dealing with the pandemic.

Tammy Hayman with Newton-Conover High School discusses upcoming graduation ceremony.

For decades, Newton-Conover High School seniors have graduated on the football field at Gurley Stadium.

“Last year was different, though,” said Tammy Hayman, a school counselor. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2019-2020 school year was cut short and celebrations for the Class of 2020 changed drastically.

Hayman remembers it well because her own daughter was in the 2020 graduating class.

“We ran graduation in 15-minute increments in the gym for five days for last year’s graduation,” she explained. “Students signed up for a time; we had a beautiful stage. It was different, but I’m glad we were able to celebrate our seniors in some way.”

Fortunately for the Class of 2021, the long-standing tradition of graduating on the school’s football field will return this year.

Newton-Conover High School plans to hold the graduation ceremony on Friday, May 28 at 7 p.m. at Gurley Stadium. Graduates will sit on the field facing the home side, where family members and loved ones will be seated. The Class of 2021 is made up of roughly 183 graduates.

“Of course we are following the governor’s orders, but we want as many family members as allowable to come,” Hayman said. “Per the governor’s orders, we will space graduates out 3 feet apart, and under the current recommendations they will not have to wear a mask.”

Executive Order 204, which went into effect on March 23, increased the maximum occupancy limit for outdoor reception venues and sports arenas to 50% of the fire capacity.

This executive order, originally set to remain in effect until 5 p.m. on April 30, was extended under Executive Order 209. The limit will remain in effect until at least June 30, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website.

After the ups and downs of this school year, Hayman said the Class of 2021 deserves to be celebrated. “They didn’t get the pep rallies, the Friday night lights, Spirit Week — just those special times where memories are made. It was different,” she said. “But I will say these kids have really stepped up and tried hard to keep up with the challenges of this past school year.”

To wrap up their hard work, graduates across Catawba County will celebrate the milestone of high school graduation.

“I think a traditional high school graduation ceremony is a rite of passage. It brings the senior class together one last time, and they can celebrate as a collective,” Hayman said. “We are social beings; we aren’t meant to be stuck in rooms by ourselves or behind computers. With this senior class, we’re getting the time to celebrate everyone as a group.”

Emily Willis is a general assignment and education reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.

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