The Marianna High School Class of 2020 graduated late Thursday afternoon in a drive-through ceremony at the MERE complex, where many of them had played tee-ball, little league baseball and softball as children in elementary school and/or as growing teenagers. The fields of play sit across from what became, in a matter of moments, their alma mater.

Many gathered at the old MERE train for family photos and special moments before they all got into vehicles driven by moms, dads or other loved ones who’d watched them grow up and had dreamed for years of witnessing this pivotal moment in their lives. They would form a processional line for a graduation like none in any other year.

The ceremony wasn’t what any of them had imagined—there were no big family gatherings in the bleachers, no sitting elbow-to-elbow, no lingering group hugs among the graduates. COVID-19 and the social distancing it requires had robbed them of that long-held vision.

This was the reality for Jackson County schools this year, and for countless other school systems across the country. MHS was the last of the Jackson County schools to play out the ritual this week.

On Monday, Jackson Alternative School held its ceremony at 9 a.m., and Adult Education had its ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Sneads grads walked that afternoon.

On Tuesday, Graceville High School held its ceremony at 1 p.m., and the Cottondale High School Class of 2020 graduated at 3:30 p.m.

On Thursday, Hope School seniors graduated at 9 a.m. Malone School seniors graduated in a 1 p.m. ceremony.

But the circumstance of their much-foreshortened rituals couldn’t strip their joy. The signs of celebration were everywhere as hearts gathered close to bear witness this year.

Here are a few scenes from those moments.

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