Graduation

Halifax County High School's 2019 graduates and faculty members (seated on the floor) are surrounded by a full-capacity crowd that filled the Halifax County High School gym.

The Halifax County High School Class of 2020 will get to walk across their graduating stage on May 23, as planned, but it won’t be in the gym or surrounded by hundreds of people.

It will be outside in front of the high school as part of a drive thru graduation called “Comets in Cars” as announced by Halifax County High School principal Michael Lewis on Monday.

Its simple… ish.

Seniors will ride up in their family’s vehicle, get out, have his or her name called, walk across the stage and receive the diploma while the rest of the family cheers and takes photos and video from the vehicle.

Lewis said traffic will be similar to that of when they have prom, but they’re still working to figure out the logistics of how they’ll maneuver hundreds of seniors throughout the property while also holding onto as many of the graduation traditions as possible.

He plans to have the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, students’ speeches and recognition of top 10.

“We want to celebrate the conclusion of this chapter, and we realize it’s hard to accept, but we plan to do all that we can to make it a grand celebration. It’s difficult to let go of that traditional gradation, but we strongly believe this is the way to celebrate. When speaking to government officials, it seems that we’re still several months away from being able to have large gatherings,” said Lewis.

He also feared if they waited too long to recognize the seniors many would have gone on to start their military careers, new jobs or college.

“I have agonized over this for months,” he added. “I understand some are disappointed, and I share that with them, but we fully believe this is the format that will allow us to celebrate.”

The high school principal is encouraging seniors to decorate their cars for the celebration, and a backdrop for the class of 2020 is being made just for them.

The ceremony, he said, will be broadcast on 95.3 WHLF, Facebook, and hopefully, on cable television. Plans are for it to start at 9 a.m.

Leading up to graduation, seniors will receive packets of information explaining the logistics and timing of the graduation, the principal explained.

Seniors also will receive a complimentary photo in the weeks after graduation.

While parents and other family will have to remain in the vehicle, Lewis said he’s hoping they’ll still be able to take photos and video from the vehicle.

He said they’re going to set the graduation stage as close to the road as they can based off of the police’s recommendation.

After Lewis’ Monday announcement some were pleased that the seniors were going to be recognized, others weren’t excited about the idea but felt the idea was better than nothing.

Others weren’t happy with the drive-thru graduation idea at all.

Many seniors and parents were so upset that a petition was created on change.org to encourage the school system to plan a “normal graduation for HCHS.”

As of Tuesday morning, that petition had 436 signatures.

Others also are floating around an idea of having the graduation at South Boston Speedway saying if two Florida schools can drive across the finish line at the Daytona International Speedway, then why can’t the HCHS seniors do that here.

Meanwhile, some parents are arguing if they can gather in stores such as Walmart and Food Lion, then why can’t a large gathering happen.

“I just wish they could explain to me how we can all stand in a line to walk in Walmart but can’t at least group up the kids alphabetically and do it in a small group…so that way we can at least cheer our kids on even if it’s a small group based on last names getting to go at once,” said parent Kelly Cash.

Cash’s daughter, Kolby Singleton, is graduating this year, and she said they’ve worked hard to get to this point.

Singleton had good grades, never missed days of school and would even sit outside the classroom to complete work if other students became too disruptive.

“This kid went over and beyond to make sure she went her senior year with straight As, and everything else has been stripped from them. She had a military ball to go to, a prom, a senior banquet. All of that got taken. They should at least be able to let us stand outside versus inside if that helps, and let us watch our kids graduate,” said Cash.

While she wished for a “normal graduation” and isn’t completely pleased with this idea, senior Chaylee Whitlow, is just grateful to have something to look forward to.

“When they announced this I wasn’t disappointed, I was actually really happy. Of course this type of graduation isn’t what we would have wanted but it’s what we have been given, and I’m grateful for that,” said Whitlow.

She also said, “having something to look forward to has been helping me not be so sad about everything else being taken because of corona.”

Having her senior year and senior memories, particularly prom, ripped away has been difficult for her.

“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve just cried to my mom or my boyfriend about it,” said Whitlow.

This senior cheerleader has spent the past 13 years studying hard to eventually become a labor and delivery nurse, and she was looking forward to graduation – “that’s what says you made it.”

“I’d love to be able to have a normal graduation but if we don’t, we still get a graduation. It’s different but we’re not walking to the mail box to get our diploma like a lot of schools,” she added.

The high school principal realizes that not everyone is going to be happy with the decision, but he feels he made it with the seniors’ best interest in mind.

“I want to continue to thank the class of 2020 for working hard through this difficult time even though they lost a lot of key activities. Keep your head up and continue to work hard. You all have made me really proud,” he concluded.

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com