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Improvised graduations to celebrate Class of 2020

Tim Croft

There is an old adage about a will and a way.

Gulf District Schools and the Class of 2020 each had the will and they chose the way this past week.

Both public county high schools will hold graduation ceremonies as scheduled near the end of next month, with a modification to the “walking the stage” aspect on each end of the county.

“That was the number one thing we heard from our seniors; they wanted to walk the stage,” said Principal Josh Dailey from Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

School staffs met with senior officers last week at both ends of the county once it was officially announced by the governor that Florida schools would not re-open for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

The seniors, however, had one more piece of business and the district was willing to do what was within its power to pull it off.

“This is their graduation, they earned it, they deserved it,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “It is just a good thing to do.

“This is one moment for which they have worked so hard. We want them to be able to turn this page feeling a sense of accomplishment, and begin writing the next chapter of their lives.”

Both Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High Schools will complete their ceremonies with the seniors traveling through town in a motorcade to allow residents to congratulate.

Both ceremonies will be videotaped as mementos of this significant rite of passage.

But, from there, both schools diverge a bit in what is planned at this stage as the county graduates more than 120 seniors.

Port St. Joe High School

A virtual graduation will be posted to the school’s website 3 p.m. Wednesday, May 20.

Graduation exercises will begin in front of the school at 5:30 p.m. ET May 21.

Students and their parents will line up in their vehicles in alphabetical order in the driveway loop at the front of the school.

The county will loan the district its long trailer to serve as a stage for the night and each student will step out of their vehicle in cap-and-gown, receive their diploma, turn their tassels and return to their cars.

“The seniors were very happy about that,” Dailey said of walking a stage, no matter how makeshift.

As vehicles move through the loop in front of the junior-high school they will travel to Long Ave. and the Port St. Joe Elementary School loop to await the awarding of all diplomas.

Once all diplomas have been handed out, about 6:30 p.m. ET, the queue becomes a parade of congratulations through town.

The motorcade will travel Long to Reid to Avenue A to State 71 to Garrison to Madison and back to the school.

The parade aims to provide the community, which shows up to fill gymnasiums for graduations each year, a chance to step out their front door and congratulate the seniors.

The parade, appropriately, will be accompanied led by a fire truck and bring along a law enforcement escort.

Wewahitchka High School

In Gator Country they are getting the walk out of the way prior to a motorcade procession at 6 p.m. CT Friday, May 22.

During the week leading up to the date, May 18-22, each senior and up to four family members will, by schedule, report to the school gynamsium for the student to walk the stage while videotaped.

Each senior will receive an 8 x 10 photo and video of the ceremony, the video showing each student taking the traditional walk across the stage to receive their diploma.

The individual videos will be edited together into a full graduation ceremony which will also include the traditional Pledge of Allegiance, recognition of honor graduates and introduction of the class.

A Gator Drive from the high school through town will be held 6 p.m. CT May 22.

A more detailed letter will be emailed to each senior and mailed home to their parents.