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Hawkins director of schools reaching out to students to improve graduation plan

Jeff Bobo • May 9, 2020 at 1:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — A plan released Tuesday for graduation ceremonies at Hawkins County’s three high schools was met with some criticism, particularly regarding the May 21 date, which is a Thursday, as well as limiting the number of guests per graduate to four.

As a result, Director of Schools Matt Hixson announced during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting that he will reach out to student leadership to create a more acceptable plan.

Hixson said he will hold a virtual meeting Monday with the BOE’s student representatives from each of the three high schools — Tyler Lawson from Volunteer, Hannah Lamb from Clinch, and Cooper Bolton from Cherokee — who will help come up with a revised plan for graduation ceremonies.

“No plan is perfect, especially one that differs from tradition,” Hixson said Thursday. “Graduation is one of the most cherished traditions one remembers for his or her life. This year we know one thing for certain. Graduation, much like anything in normal life, will be much different.”

A ceremony with social distancing

The original plan for a May 21 graduation involved limiting the number of guests per graduate to four and restricting the number of graduate/guest groups allowed in the gym at the same time. (Click here for a link to a detailed description of the original plan).

Those graduate/guest groups in the gym would have been spaced out, adhering to social distancing guidelines, as they approached the stage to receive their diploma. Other graduate/guest groups would have waited in their vehicles for their turn to enter the gym.

As the student approached the stage, their guests would break off from students and stand at a marked location in front of center stage directly prior to their student walking onto the stage.

The student would hand the master of ceremonies at the microphone a card with their name, and that student would be announced and proceed across the stage to receive a diploma cover and stop for a photo with the director of schools and/or their principal.

Thursday graduation a main problem

BOE Chairman Chris Christian, who is the father of a graduating Volunteer High School student, told the Times News prior to Thursday’s meeting that one of the main concerns he heard about the plan was it being on a Thursday.

Graduations are traditionally held on Saturdays, and the Thursday event would be inconvenient to some work schedules, Christian said.

Limiting the number of guests to four was also a concern and would put pressure on students to determine who among their loved ones could attend and who couldn’t.

One of the more prevalent alternatives being discussed by parents and students is postponing the event until July, when the virus situation may be less constraining and a more traditional graduation ceremony can be held.

“A celebration worthy of our seniors’ efforts”

Hixson’s concern about a July graduation date is losing some graduates who may have to leave for military basic training or other obligations that would take them away from the area.

The longer Hawkins County waits to celebrate its seniors, the more chance of not having all seniors in attendance, Hixson noted.

“There are strong feelings on either side of this event and how it’s being planned,” Hixson said. “We have tried to fit a celebration worthy of our seniors’ efforts, and one thing being discussed as we planned was a desire to do something special now while all seniors are still here and available to do so. We have walked a very fine line between our desire to keep students and staff safe, as well as to provide an opportunity for seniors to have the event with their closest family members and provide an edited video to preserve those memories.”

Hixson added, “As we progress through the first part of next week, I will update all of you, as well as the staff, parents and students affected, with proposed changes to procedures for events at each of our school sites.”

“They’re going to be marked by this”

Christian thanked school staff for being open to the suggestions of the students.

“This is a very special time for them in a difficult time,” Christian said. “Twenty years from now when someone asks a member of the Class of 2020 when did you graduate, they’re going to say it was when the virus hit. They’re going to be marked by this, so I want to thank the director and his staff for being considerate and reaching out for suggestions from our students.”

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