The original graduation plan, which addressed safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic, had all three ceremonies scheduled for Thursday, May 21.
The new schedule calls for Clinch School, which will graduate 11 students, to hold its ceremony on the original date at 6 p.m.
However, Cherokee High School will graduate approximately 200 students on Saturday, May 23 at 8:30 a.m.; and Volunteer High School will graduate approximately 280 on Saturday, May 30 at 8:30 a.m.
The only other big change from the original plan was allowing two vehicles per graduate. The number of guests per graduate remains limited to four, but those groups will be allowed to arrive in up to two vehicles instead of one.
As for the previously announced social distancing precautions, those will still be in place for all three events.
Putting safety first
At each site, students and their guests will arrive on campus at a designated time.
Students may have up to four guests accompany them and may have up to two vehicles on campus while they wait to enter the gym. If two vehicles are necessary, they should arrive on campus at the same time.
Those graduate/guest groups in the gym will be spaced out, adhering to social distancing guidelines, as they approach the stage to receive their diploma. Other graduate/guest groups will wait in their vehicles for their turn to enter the gym.
The students will each have the opportunity to walk across the stage, hear their name and receive their diploma.
A videographer and photographer will document the event. The completed ceremony will be edited and available for download at a later date.
Individual schools will be releasing additional guidance concerning staging time and location to graduating seniors and their families.
“There was no perfect plan”
The revised plan was created with the input of the three Board of Education student representatives from each school, who contacted their peers for input.
Cherokee representative Cooper Bolton told the Times News, “As a graduate, I am pleased with the revision of the graduation plan. There was no perfect plan, but I believe administration has tried their best to accommodate graduation as close to 100% of the graduating class as possible. I am hoping my fellow classmates will choose to be thankful for the ceremony.”
Other BOE student reps included Hannah Lamb from Clinch and Tyler Lawson from Volunteer, who were challenged to get feedback from 10 other students. Each of those 10 were in turn challenged to get feedback from five more students.
Hixson said one student rep stated that he probably spoke to more than 160 classmates.
“They had all weekend to work on it, and they were worn out this morning,” Hixson said. “One of the first things they stated was they wanted to have it sooner rather than later because some of their classmates are entering the military as early as June. It’s possible that some of these restrictions would be lifted if we waited until July, but they didn’t want to take a chance that some of their classmates would be gone by then and wouldn’t be able to participate.”
Hixson added, “I would like to thank our student body representatives for gathering feedback and working with our secondary education team to finalize a plan that will allow us to safely recognize the achievements of each student before they enter the next phase in their life. I look forward to personally congratulating each of you on your achievements as you cross the stage.”
“We’re looking at an eight-hour day”
Hixson said he expects the graduations at Volunteer and Cherokee to last most of the day, which is why graduates will be asked to arrive at a scheduled time.
“With staff and the deputies who will be assisting us, we’re looking at an eight-hour day,” Hixson said. “I think we are looking at going alphabetical. Each graduate will receive a specific time on a placard that they put in their car telling them when to arrive on campus and when to stage. Each group will have a staging time, and then we’ll start bringing the groups in as we can and staging them in the gym.”
In trying to keep the “ceremony as close as possible to tradition, there will be messages given from the top students, as well as a message from the principals,” Hixson said.
“Those speeches will appear on the edited video each student receives. We’re going to try to make it as normal as possible on the video,” Hixson said.