Unique drive-thru ceremony planned for DHS graduation

By: Contributed Report | Twitter: @DinwiddieMonitr
Posted: May 21, 2020 | 1:30 p.m.

Similar event planned for Friday night honoring DHS’ graduating spring athletes

DINWIDDIE – As COVID-19 forces long standing traditions to be put on hold or canceled in order to protect the health and welfare of the community, Dinwiddie Schools looks to keep its annual commencement exercise alive, albeit with some modifications as they prepare to hold a special drive-thru ceremony next month for its graduating seniors.

For America’s Class of 2020, their senior year has been anything but typical as novel coronavirus has made it memorable for all the wrong reasons as the virus’ spread forced school districts to close, canceling keystone events like prom, senior recognition nights, and, in some cases, graduation.

Dinwiddie High School hasn’t been spared from the effects of COVID-19 as hundreds of the county’s seniors joined their fellow students across the Commonwealth in being sent home for the remainder of the school after Governor Ralph Northam ended the academic year in March due to the spread of the respiratory illness.

Weeks after the shutdown as the calendars turned to May, creeping closer to previously set June graduation dates, many students and parents wondered how their achievement would be memorialized amid the realities of COVID-19, which has seen limits placed on gathering sizes, social distancing, and the closure of venues that may serve as hosts for larger commencement ceremonies.

After reaching out to its student and parents, Dinwiddie Public Schools announced last week they would be holding a special drive-thru-style ceremony at Dinwiddie High School on June 12 at 9 a.m., the same day students would have gathered in neighboring Ettrick at Virginia State University’s multipurpose center for graduation.

While the event remains in the planning stages, in a Facebook post, school officials explained the ceremony will see “students being able to get out of the vehicle and cross the stage to receive his or her diploma while their family watches from the vehicle.”

“More detailed information will be shared in the coming weeks about the exact process and directions for that day,” they detailed, adding that they are also working to have the ceremony made available via a local radio station and a live stream online.

In an interview, DCPS’ director of school and community relations Christie Clarke said they held out hope to be able to hold its typical ceremony in Ettrick but ultimately had to alter course due to the ongoing pandemic and accompanying restrictions. As a result, a survey was distributed to Dinwiddie High School families to garner feedback on ideas for an alternate event, which included potentially moving the ceremony to a later date or holding a virtual ceremony, among others.

For Clarke, the parent of a graduating senior and intimately involved with the coordination of the alternative ceremony, she said she understands the desire of students and their families to be part of a commencement ceremony while balancing the health and safety of those same stakeholders.

“My daughter is a senior and my only child so this is the only chance for a lot of people so I do understand,” she shared. “We want to do everything we can to have a graduation. No one wants to cancel one. We would love to have one on a perfect day at Virginia State University but right now, we have to do as we are directed as far as guidelines,” referring to the ongoing ban on nonessential gatherings of ten or more people.

Virginia State University’s Multipurpose Center in Ettrick has become the home of Dinwiddie High’s graduations of late but, due to COVID-19, the tradition will break as the district plans a unique drive-thru-style ceremony for graduates next month. (Michael Campbell)

COVID-19-related restrictions have created a hodgepodge of responses to the challenge of holding graduations. Some colleges, including Richard Bland College in Dinwiddie, have held virtual ceremonies that are live-streamed to graduates and the community, featuring keynote speakers and uplifting messages.

Similar to what is planned in Dinwiddie next month, some high schools in Texas and Florida saw popular race tracks Texas Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway open its gates to let students and their families drive across the start-finish line to receive their diplomas in a unique ceremony.

As school districts weigh their options, it is clear there isn’t a model example to rely on as restrictions and other circumstances in specific counties and states ultimately determine the type of ceremony that could be held.

“All these schools are doing different things so there isn’t one exact answer to go on,” Clarke detailed.

Through their efforts, she said Dinwiddie Schools is committed to making their senior year the special milestone it is despite COVID-19 dampening some aspects of it.

“We really tried hard to show our support for the kids because this is hard for them,” she said, noting a special senior spring sports athletes event set for May 22 at 7 p.m. entitled “Light Up The Field.”

Friday evening, the community is encouraged to drive around Dinwiddie High School’s athletic fields cheering on athletes who, due to COVID-19 were unable to compete one last time on their home turf. While no one will be allowed to leave their vehicles, those visiting are asked to decorate their cars and make plenty of noise in support of Navy Nation.

In addition, school staff delivered signs to every Dinwiddie High School seniors’ home and a local grassroots initiative to surprise those students with gifts thanks to a special adopt-a-senior social media initiative has helped to brighten the days of upcoming graduates.

“That has been so good for the kids,” Clarke said. “Perfect strangers have adopted them and sent them cards and gifts.”

Dinwiddie Schools is expected to release more details about how the drive-thru graduation ceremony will work in the coming weeks through their website and social media channels, such as Facebook.

Copyright 2020 Womack Publishing

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