Students came in wearing red caps and gowns, their families watched as seniors crossed the stage to receive diplomas and teachers and school administration congratulated the graduates.
Tuesday was a lot like a usual graduation in the Newton-Conover High School gym.
There was on big difference. Each student had their own graduation ceremony so the school could follow social distancing policies put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each ceremony lasted 10 minutes.
The ceremonies will continue until May 22. One hundred-sixty of the 170 Newton-Conover graduates will walk across the stage.
“It was really thought out and planned well,” Newton-Conover graduate Nicholas Campbell said. “I really enjoyed it and how personal it was, even if we weren’t able to have one as the whole graduating class.”
Principal Chris Penley welcomed the family at the beginning of each ceremony. “I would like to say thank you to all of our parents, students and staff for another successful school year in such unprecedented times,” he said during the ceremony. “Thank you for keeping positive in working through the end of your senior year with dignity and grace.”
Superintendent Aron Gabriel talked about making this event special in difficult times. “We are trying to make the best of a bad situation,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how we could do it. Especially at the time they had to start planning for this.”
“We wanted to make sure that we were able to provide our seniors with the most special graduation commencement ceremony,” Penley said. “We knew that we had parameters we had to stay within with COVID.”
“Our kids did not ask for this,” Penley continued. “Nobody did. This is an unfortunate pandemic that reared its ugly head and we were tasked with: ‘What can we do? How do we make it special and still make sure our kids feel loved, appreciated and celebrated?’”
Penley said the faculty worked together to come up with a plan, reached out for help from the community and they were able to accomplish what they hoped to do.
“They had a place where we could take photographs which made it very special and memorable,” Nicholas’ mother Kim Campbell said. “I liked how they had the family come in and then him (Nicholas).”
The families were seated in a single row of chairs in front of the stage.
“I usually don’t get to see the family’s reactions,” Gabriel said. “I get to see the kids at a normal graduation … I can never see the parents because they’re in the bleachers. Seeing parents right here, it’s very heartwarming to watch.”
Graduate Thomas Dufour said the ceremony was, “Very personal and very moving. I really appreciate all that they’ve done for me.”
After the ceremony, students were given gift baskets filled with gift cards, books and snacks. The gifts were donated by members of the Newton-Conover community and families.
“It’s so different compared to the normal (graduation),” graduate Caleigha Schenck said.
Corey Schenck, Caleigha’s father, said he was relieved that his youngest child has now graduated.
“(The school) made the best out of it,” Corey Schenck said. “I was wondering how it was going to be with everything going on. It still gives them (graduates) something to remember. I know they will never forget this.”
These words appeared in the pamphlet handed out at the ceremony, “I entered the world in the wake of 9/11. I graduated during a pandemic. I am more empathetic than other generations. I am independent and inclusive. I am hopeful yet realistic and I see the world for what it is. I understand the celebrations will have to wait and I’m okay with that. I am mature beyond my years. I am proud of who I am.”
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