Though the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds made for a less formal event, the first round of graduation ceremonies taking place Thursday was almost normal.
Students were giddy with excitement and parents were teary-eyed as they watched their teenagers prepare to graduate into adulthood.
Before they were seated, Houston County High School seniors adjusted their caps and gowns, their honorary ribbons and ropes, which symbolized their unique academic and skill accomplishments.
Parents and family members, meanwhile, were adjusting their face masks and foldout chairs on the grass field of the outdoor amphitheater — a sign of the times as many students in the Wiregrass graduate under unusual circumstances.
Trace Adkins’ “You’re Gonna Miss This” played from the stadium speakers, setting the sentimental mood for the morning. In fact, the class of 2020 had missed quite a lot during the transformational time period. They missed many of the milestones that usually tie up their K-12 educational career, as the threat of the coronavirus canceled the remaining school year, proms, sports seasons, Honors Day ceremonies and baccalaureates.
“There was no doubt you were robbed of those memories. But in my opinion, you’ll be better suited for what is ahead because of your experience with COVID-19. In just two short months, you’ve learned that circumstances can change quickly, and we must all adapt while remaining positive,” Principal Lisa Towns said to students in her commencement speech. “Life doesn’t always go in our favor, but life goes on.”
Though their senior year was marred by missed opportunities, class valedictorian Andrea Ferguson was positive about the experience, calling their shared experience “unforgettable.”
“I’m so thankful to be a part of a class so different than any other,” she said.
Students were called from the bleachers, where they were appropriately socially distanced, to walk across the stage.
Kimberly Wells pulled out her phone to record her daughter, Laquesha, as she received her diploma and moved her tassel.
“It felt different, but I’m glad I was able to come to see her during an awkward moment like this,” she said. “I wish more family could have been able to attend, but overall I’m just glad. It was magnificent.”
When state school Superintendent Eric Mackey announced schools would remain closed through the remainder of the academic year, many parents and students were unsure if a ceremony honoring graduates would be possible at all.
“It was definitely still a special moment for us,” Preston Anderson, a Houston County School graduate, said. “It was really good getting to see them (classmates) one last time.”
Preston’s dad, Brandon, was happy that schools found a way to honor the graduating class.
“It feels great. There wasn’t much they could do with the virus going around, but they did the best they could,” he said after the ceremony.
Houston County Schools held graduation ceremonies for Houston County, Cottonwood and Ashford High School students, who were among the first round of graduating seniors Thursday, with many more planned for Wiregrass schools.
Rehobeth and Wicks-burg High School will hold their graduation ceremonies Friday at the fairgrounds on Highway 231 South as well.