Edna High School senior Karlee Marthiljohni said one symbolic act was missing from her graduation ceremony.
“We don’t get to throw our caps in the air,” Marthiljohni, 18, said before the ceremony Friday night. “It’s different.”
“We don’t get to hold each other’s hands, or sit as close together, and we can’t have all of our family and friends here, either,” added senior Mollie Hastings, 18. “It’s been hard, but we’re glad we at least get something.”
Graduation day marks a significant milestone for high school seniors. For the class of 2020, however, graduation ceremonies will look different than ever before, as traditional celebrations have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some graduations are taking place virtually, while others that are in person have precautions in place to enforce social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19. In Edna, the measures to hold a safe ceremony included checking the temperatures of all students and audience members, who also had to confirm that they had no symptoms of COVID-19, before they entered the stadium. Students were limited to inviting five guests each, who sat separated in the stands.
“It’s been tough,” said Robert Draper, father of Edna senior Colton Draper.
Robert Draper said the impact of COVID-19 on the milestone event hit his son on Friday.
“He was realizing he never had a real last day of school, or a chance to say goodbye,” he said. “And this ceremony is different than students imagined.”
Coronavirus precautions have hit close to home for the Draper family. Colton’s older sister, Kirsten Draper, 21, found out just hours before the ceremony that her COVID-19 test came back negative.
“We didn’t think I was going to be able to come and watch him graduate,” she said. “We’re really thankful.”
Seniors at Goliad High School also had their graduation ceremony Friday. Prior to the ceremony, the students were celebrated from their cars with a parade around downtown. Edna held a parade following their ceremony for seniors, too.
In Goliad, Shirley Young, a former mayor of Goliad, stood along the parade route to watch her great-grandson, David Stewart, 18, take part in the festivities.
“It’s not the usual pomp and circumstance,” Young said. “They’re not getting to march together, walk across the stage and get handed their diploma because of everything happening.”
Though it wasn’t the graduation she imagined, Young said she feels it is important to take safety into account and adjust however necessary. Thankfully, she said, Goliad residents haven’t missed a beat supporting the senior class. The town and homes of seniors have been adorned with banners and gifts congratulating the students.
“They’ve worked so hard for the past 12 years, so we want them to know this is a great achievement,” she said.
Annie Bland was one of many who lined downtown for the parade to support the seniors. Many attendees held signs, cheered and shook pompoms at the students as they drove by, honking and waving.
The aunt of Goliad senior Addison McKelvey, Bland said she was grateful that so many community members showed their support at the parade, even though COVID-19 has prevented them from having a normal graduation.
“I was glad (the seniors) were able to have this,” she said. “To see everyone here, friends and family showing their support, it’s helping them feel special.”