Not all Bulloch County Class of 2020 seniors agree with the decision to hold individual graduation walks this weekend for guests watching from vehicles and production of video ceremonies.
Two 2020 honor graduates-to-be told the Statesboro Herald that they, and others, wanted the school system to wait and hold full, in-person ceremonies later, at a safer time.
“Talking to a bunch of parents and students, we’ve kind of vocalized against the decision to hold a graduation so early, and especially with the idea that a prom will be held in July,” said Southeast Bulloch High School honor graduate Aaron Johnson, 18. “But to go ahead and rush into a graduation, especially at this moment, a lot of students and parents feel it’s just irresponsible and it doesn’t truly embody the graduating experience.”
All three high schools set tentative dates for delayed proms, with Southeast Bulloch High posting a prom time of 8-11 p.m. July 25.
“The fact that they’re willing to hold off for the safety of the students for a prom at that time, you know, the biggest question that has us scratching our heads is, why wouldn’t you just wait for a graduation in July, whenever it’s a safer moment, and not only that, you can actually host a graduation with limited numbers,” Johnson said Wednesday.
For example, one of his friends from Boys Nation will be graduating from high school in an Alabama county where an in-person graduation, with limited seating, is planned for late June.
Last year, Johnson participated in Boys State, an American Legion-sponsored program, where he was elected governor of a mythical 51st state went on to participate in Boys Nation. After graduation, he plans to attend the University of North Georgia and later the University of Georgia on his way to becoming a U.S. Air Force officer. He departs as battalion commander of the Army-affiliated Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps battalion at Southeast Bulloch.
Yami Patterson, 18, a Statesboro High School honor graduate, said her main concern is the safety of graduates, guests and school personnel from a health perspective. The graduation walks, on outdoor stages near parking areas or driveways, will be done this Friday, Saturday and Monday at Statesboro High and Southeast Bulloch High and on Saturday morning at Portal Middle High School.
Parents and other guests will watch from vehicles, with a maximum of two vehicles allowed to each graduate.
“I am concerned more for the health aspects of graduation,” Patterson said. “When they said vehicles, they did not put a limit to the seating in a vehicle. A vehicle can go as large as a charter bus, and parents are vocalizing that they’re going to have huge vans and what not coming to the graduation.”
That would be great, she said, except that COVID-19 remains an active pandemic and relatives from all over the country could be in some of the vehicles.
“I know I have family in New York City and in Atlanta, which are some of the most crucial cities that are suffering right now from the coronavirus, and having that student in one of those two vehicles on the way to graduation, and getting out, I’m worried about the exposure,” Patterson said.
At least one school’s emailed instructions to graduates, Southeast Bulloch’s, did specify a maximum-size vehicle: a 15-passenger van.
Patterson noted that wearing masks to the stage walks had been suggested but was not made mandatory.
She said she had talked to a cousin who was a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doctor, who shared her concern and asked if there will be any screening, such as nurses taking temperatures.
Active in the National Honor Society and also in American Legion programs, Patterson plans to major in biological sciences at Georgia State University in pursuit of becoming a neonatologist.
Patterson said she was one of the 19 Statesboro High seniors who Principal Chad Prosser said had indicated, as of Tuesday, that they will not participate in this weekend’s walks. Her family had been told of a later makeup opportunity, the week of July 13, for graduates to receive their diplomas individually, she said.
Southeast Bulloch High School Principal Stephen Hoyle’s letter to graduates and parents also provides for “an individualized makeup ceremony” that week.
About 12 SEBHS students indicated they would not participate this weekend, Hoyle said.
Hope for prom?
As for prom plans, Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said they are tentative at best as the schools are “keeping hope alive for prom.”
“You know, there is so much anxiety and grief and mourning these students are having over their not having closure as a senior class, and that hurts,” Wilson said. “I mean, we’re very considerate of that, and I think what is going on is all of these principals are trying to work with the students and understand their concerns, and so they’re letting them keep that open as an option, knowing that that may not happen.”
But graduation is more important, he said, and he and other school leaders are “trying to respect the Class of 2020 by giving them closure together while they’re still all here.”
“If we wait, there are a lot of students who will have to move on with their lives. … That’s not fair to them for us to wait,” Wilson said. “So there is no perfect answer.”