While there has been almost a month delay, graduation season finally got underway last week for seniors in the Union County school district. Two schools - Myrtle and Ingomar - held their ceremonies on Monday and Thursday respectively and East Union and West Union will hold ceremonies this week.
I had the privilege of covering the Ingomar graduation Thursday night and witnessed a very different affair than any other year. The most obvious difference this year was the arrangement of the seniors. In compliance with CDC and Mississippi Department of Education guidelines, the students' seats were arranged six feet apart, which took up a larger amount of the basketball court than usual. In addition to the social distancing, each person inside the gymnasium - graduates, school staff and administration and spectators alike - wore a mask. The number of spectators was also very limited inside the building, with each person being required to present a ticket for entry. Finally, the receiving line that is normally held at the end of the ceremony so that spectators can congratulate graduates was cancelled. As I said, a very different sight.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused many interruptions in the United States. One of the most drastic interruptions has been, perhaps, the cancellation of in-person school here in Union County and the state of Mississippi since before Spring Break. These seniors, who would normally celebrate many lasts during their final year of high school, missed out on some of the most important because school had been converted to a virtual format over the last two and a half months. I cannot know how much that must have hurt.
Anna Beth Gandy, Ingomar's valedictorian, had some encouraging and inspiring words for her fellow classmates, however. She told her friends in the speech she made to them during the ceremony that the challenges they've faced over these past few weeks can only make them stronger. She said that adulthood brings many more challenges with it, some much bigger than not seeing each other for a few weeks. But, she said, with faith, they can go on to accomplish anything they choose.
Hopefully, next year's graduation ceremonies will look a little closer to normal for the Class of 2021. But, for the Class of 2020, the trials they faced this year will hopefully show them they are stronger than they might think.