By:Terry Harris | Twitter: @SSDispatch
Posted: June 5, 2020 | 11:45 a.m.
SUSSEX – Things might be a bit different at this year’s graduation, but in spite of the challenges, the 2020 Senior class of Sussex Central High School will have a chance to celebrate the joyous occasion together – safely – thanks to a lot of creative thinking and planning. Principal Alvina Matthews explained how she, Superintendent Arthur Jarrett and the entire staff have been working together to make the June 12 event special while staying within the current boundaries for safe assembly.
“I’m really, really excited!” Matthews exclaimed. “It’s the first time I’ll be able to see the kids collectively since they had to leave, and they have worked so hard to get to this point. COVID-19 has put such a damper on their senior year, I felt that it was really important that they get to have some form of graduation. So we were sad that they can’t have the graduation they deserved, but now I’m excited. Although it won’t be the typical graduation, I need them to have some form of normalcy.”
“What we’re going to do,” she continued, “is have a drive-in graduation. I’m not saying a drive-through graduation. It’s a drive-in graduation where the kids will be in parked cars with their family members. The reason we’re doing it this way is that the kids worked hard together, and I feel part of the ceremony is peers cheering peers on. They rooted for each other for the duration of their academic years, and I feel that they should be able to root for each other now as they culminate their years of high school. They won’t be out and about for each other, but they’ll be able to cheer each other on from their cars.”
“It’s unfortunate that because of safety restrictions only a certain number of family members will be able to be there for such a grand event,” she continued, “but we’re attempting to have it live-streamed so other family members will be able to see it. Yes, it’s so, so sad that we can’t have our normal graduation. But our seniors will actually be in their cars with their family members for their graduation and we’ll all have the program together.”
Matthews explained that the procedure will commence at 10 a.m. with everyone inside their cars. There will be the usual speeches by the Valedictorian and Salutatorian, and announcement of scholarships awarded, but no commencement speaker this year due to time considerations.
“We’re going to try to keep it down to an hour,” she said. “We don’t want them to have to stay in the car any longer than that. We’ll have a stage, loudspeaker, and approximately 10 students in their caps and gowns will stand outside their cars at a time as their names are called. Once each group is awarded their diplomas there will be pictures and then they’ll return to their vehicles so we don’t exceed the number of people together at one time.”
According to Matthews, graduates will be allowed one car each, and all will be parked in pre-assigned spaces in the order of graduation.
“And each student is allowed to decide who will be passengers with them in their vehicle,” she explained. “They can have parents, cousins, friends, whoever they want riding with them, but we have to keep it to one car per student and the largest vehicle size allowed is 15 passengers so that no one blocks anyone else’s view.”
Matthews said that the campus roads will be closed and only people in vehicles with students will be allowed on site to observe graduation, but reiterated that they are still working very hard to arrange to have the graduation ceremony live-streamed.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s going to be special,” Matthews said. “We know that this is not the ideal graduation, but wanted to get as close to a normal graduation as we possibly can. We even considered postponing it, but some of the students are going off to the military and we don’t know what’s going on with colleges yet, so we decided to go on now while they’re all still here. We weighed the options and we’re just doing the best we can for our wonderful kids.”
Asked how logistics for such an elaborate assemblage will be handled, Matthews explained that the JROTC and the Sussex County Sheriff’s Department have assisted with preparations and will be on hand to ensure that things go smoothly. Seniors will have assigned parking passes and places, be lined up in graduation order, and both the JROTC and the Sheriff’s Department will handle street closures as well as the elaborate precautions and maneuvers needed for admitting and situating the 75 vehicles with numbered, school-issued passes for the special, safe event as no other vehicles or pedestrians will be allowed on campus.
Asked if she had any special message for the graduates, Matthews said, “I say it every year. I want them to know that, in the words of Christina Aguilera, ‘You are beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can’t bring you down,’ And I’ll sing it this year, too. It’s kind of like a theme song that I borrowed, and I sing that to them every day. Whenever I start singing the kids sing it with me, so I can’t change the words for graduation. But what I want every one of them to know is ‘You’re beautiful, and COVID-19 can’t bring you down.’”
She paused for a moment, then with a smile in her voice, she said, “COVID got us this year, but we’re going to have a great time.”
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