By Clint Parker
North Buncombe/Madison – A far cry from the traditional graduation commemorations was the 2020 high school ceremonies across the area this weekend. Of the three high school graduations the Tribune covered, all differed in various ways, but all accomplished the same goal: conveying the title of high school graduates to the recipients.
While both of the Buncombe County high schools covered put their graduation ceremonies on Facebook with the order of events slightly differing, they were pretty much the same. The videos started at 9 am on Saturday and lasted about an hour with pick-up of the graduates’ diplomas from 11 am – 2 pm as a drive-thru event. On Sunday, Madison Early College/High School chose to go with a local community FM station to carry the ceremony from start to finish.
North Buncombe High School
Graduates of the home of the BlackHawks heard from principal Dr. Samantha Sircey to open their ceremony video. It then immediately went into the National Anthem sung by Senior Grace Hiller. Dr. Sircey then came back to talk about a jar with scrolls in it that was given to her by some of her seniors this year and that it was labeled “Words of encouragement.” She had consulted the jar while writing her message to the graduates. One of the scrolls, she said, “Your life isn’t yours if you always care what others think.” She presented several in her address before the student speakers and a song from the school’s advanced chorus.
John Meyers, Student of Honor Speaker, told his fellow graduates, “I know that we all have potential. I know that each one of us has the potential to change the world.” He went on to say, “Our teachers have pushed us over the last four years to reach our potential.” After he finished, the school’s advanced chorus sang “We Can Dream,” which had been recorded at an earlier school performance.
Then Senior Sage Brady, elected senior speaker of the class, spoke on the events that had brought the class to a virtual graduation. “Our current circumstance is one of the many things that makes the Class of 2020 different. I mean, from the start, everyone thought we were going to be something extraordinary. And the title Class of 2020 is iconic in itself and now were a part of history.” After she finished her address, they called each graduate’s name for the remaining 30 minutes of the video.
At 11 am, students started collecting their diploma in front of the high school beneath the black hawk that flys over the school. Chauffeured students, were dropped off several yards before the main entrance. Their families were instructed to Drive forward and park. The student diploma was retrieved and their name called. It was then presented by a masked Dr. Sircey. The family members were allowed to take pictures. The students or their family members were not required to wear masks, but everyone with the school did. The family then reboarded their car and left.
Asked how he felt about his graduation, Austin Bell said, “I think this is a smart idea for what’s been going on and I hope this all gets sorted out and fixed as quickly as possible so people can actually have a graduation…But this is the best they could do and I’m glad they did it like this.”
Erwin High School
At Erwin’s virtual ceremony on Facebook held at the same time as North Buncombe’s, Class President Emily Willis opened the video, welcomed everyone and congratulated the graduates before Erwin Principal Gregory Bailey did the same. Bailey then had Willis lead the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the singing of the National Anthem by Emily Sanders and Allie Jones.
Next came the student speakers. First, Delaney Phelps would start her address with “Hi everybody! I know that this is weird. This is super weird.” She described her dream of a normal graduation that was not to be and gave a message of unity. “I know that we have different feelings on the pandemic. I know that some of us want things to be different than they are now or for things to stay the same, but what is important to remember is if we are ever going to get through this, we have to get through this together.”
Graduate Nate Worley told the class there were high school experiences that no one could take away from them despite what happened to their senior year. “I know that we can’t go back and we’re not meant to go back.” He then quoted one of his favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, who said, “Don’t cry because it happened, smile because it’s over.”
Bailey then returned and expressed regret for what the class had lost, including prom, athletic events, trips, and more.
“I want to challenge you…We all will agree that these events have not been fair or pleasant.” He then went on to say that it was the same with life. “It is in those times, as is the case today, that you must make a choice. You can allow your circumstance to define and control you. Or you can decide you are much more than your circumstances. I urge you to take life’s unexpected visitors, such as this circumstance and use it to grow as an individual.” After his address, the rest of the video was used to call out the graduates’ names. Differing from the North Buncombe video, students were asked to come for their diploma at specific times based on their last name.
At 11 am, Students were in front of the school where they disembarked and accepted what represented their diploma but actually drove around to the student parking lot where some faculty applauded them and the graduate received their actual degree.
Graduate Candice Banks said of the event, “I feel like, considering this is what had to happen, I am really glad they were able to do this instead of mailing out you know ‘Hey congratulations’.”
Madison Early College/High School
There was no video for the students of Madison Early College/High School to watch before attending their graduation ceremony on Sunday. Instead, the school chose to have attendees tune in to a local FM station to hear the proceedings.
Listening proved difficult, with the wind and audio problems conspiring to mask the students’ and faculty’s speeches. After conferring the degree, students’ names were called and they were driven up by their family in their car and stepped out to accept their diploma. Students were asked to wear masks. Most did, but others didn’t. Families were allowed to get out and take pictures and then they could either stay for the rest of the program or leave. Most chose to leave after they received their diploma.