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High school graduations moved to football fields

Tim Croft
The Star

The people spoke (some quite loudly) and public school officials listened.

As a result the Class of 2020 will walk stages, receive diplomas and turn tassels in front of friends and family after all.

High school graduations, initially planned as much improvised affairs at both ends of the county, will now be held on their scheduled dates inside the football fields at the respective high schools.

There will be modifications due to the coronavirus outbreak, but with some loosening of restrictions in the county school officials saw an opening for the Class of 2020.

“We will have full graduations at each end of the county,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “We will have full and responsible graduations.

“These kids deserve it and we have said from the beginning whatever we could do we would do.”

Port St. Joe seniors will graduate during exercises to begin 6 p.m. ET Thursday, May 21 at Shark Field with Wewahitchka seniors doing the same at 6 p.m. CT, Friday, May 22 at Gator Field.

Both schools will broadcast the ceremonies on Facebook Live and a replay will be posted on each school’s website.

Initially, the district had fashioned graduations last month based on the lockdown decrees from federal and state authorities then in place.

In Port St. Joe, the original plan was to have graduates pick up diplomas on a makeshift stage in the circle in front of the schools.

Wewahitchka High School was going with what was in effect a “virtual” graduation involving taping individual students and splicing together a graduation ceremony.

“People, parents, teachers and administrators demanded us to do more than just a drive-by diploma,” Norton said.

“And this is outdoors in the warm spring air. It doesn’t seem as conducive to transmission (of the virus).”

Norton also noted the county and two cities had recently lifted restrictions on outdoor activities, opening beaches and boat ramps, provided social distancing was still in the equation.

So, the football stadiums became the focus for graduation.

Each senior was asked to limit the number of family and guests to six if possible, eight at a maximum.

Chairs will be six-feet apart, though families, which have been at home together through the pandemic, may sit closer together.

Signs will be posted to caution the public to practice social distancing.

And, as with graduations every year, this will be a public, a community, event and the community is encouraged to attend.

“These are large stadium areas and people just need to take a little personal responsibility and maintain social distancing,” Norton said. “And if you have a compromised health situation, don’t come.

“These are responsible graduations.”

Seniors will walk into the stadium in the traditional fashion of opening graduations, with teachers and faculty already seated.

While scholarships will still be announced, students will stand when their names are announced from the stage; presenters will not be on stage to enhance distancing.

In Port St. Joe, the ceremony will be followed by a motorcade throughout the community to provide folks who could or did not attend the ceremony to salute the seniors.

In Wewahitchka, they have scrapped a motorcade in favor of leaving the football field open to allow for pictures and to allow seniors to hang out with family and classmates after the ceremony.