At Monday evening’s monthly Board of Education meeting, Wayne County Public School (WCPS) administrators announced the district’s plan to hold live commencement events for its graduating classes of 2020.
“School districts are struggling nationwide for how to honor their graduating seniors in this COVID-19 environment,” states Ken Derksen, WCPS 2020 Graduation Coordinator. “We have reviewed North Carolina’s guidelines for what would be allowed for commencement events, developed potential options for schools to consider, asked high school principals to get feedback, and researched how other school districts are holding their events. Ultimately, Wayne County Public Schools has developed one of the more unique and complex plans in the state to give all of our graduating classes live ceremonies and to help them bring closure to their high school experience the same way they started, together.”
The district’s graduation plan has three elements: Procession, Drive-In, & Live Ceremony.
Each school’s graduates will be lined up at Wayne Community College (WCC). Upon arrival, each graduate will receive a special Honor Cord. The cord will have two colors bound together, teal and gray.
“These seniors have missed so many experiences as a result of COVID-19, including prom, senior trips, athletics, and the day to day opportunities to socialize with their classmates and teachers at school,” adds Derksen. “The gray in the Honor Cord is symbolic of the absence of these experiences. The more dominant color in the cord is teal, which is one of the primary district colors. The teal represents all that these seniors have overcome this year and for becoming a 2020 graduate of Wayne County Public Schools.”
At 8:20 PM, or 2020 Military Time, the graduates will depart from WCC in a vehicle procession led by the School Resource Officer from each high school, participating fire departments from the communities in which the high schools are located, WCC Campus Police, and school and district representatives. Each graduate’s vehicle will be allowed to have up to three guests and will be driven by a parent so the graduate can safely focus on the walkways beside the procession route.
“Leading up to this very specific time, we are encouraging each school’s staff, family members, and members of the community to park and safely socially distance themselves along the procession route to celebrate our graduates with signs, balloons, and other messages of support,” adds Derksen.
Those coming out will be able stand and socially distance themselves on the sidewalk in front of the Maxwell Center on Wayne Memorial Dr., along the greenway running the length of New Hope Rd., and on the sidewalk along Berkeley Blvd. between New Hope Rd. and Royall Ave. The walkways stretch approximately 3.5 miles, giving ample space for supporters to spread out.
The procession will end at Berkeley Mall, where all graduates will be parked facing the stage and two jumbo screens secured to the building. The events will be closed to the general public, and will kick off once all graduates are parked.
Keeping as close to a traditional ceremony as possible, all senior speeches and graduation presentations will be delivered live from the stage. Following the speeches, seniors will be exited from their vehicles, with six students at a time socially distanced 8-feet apart from each other, to physically walk across the stage as their name is called to receive their diploma and have a photo taken. The ceremonies will be displayed on the jumbo screens, with audio of the speeches broadcast directly into vehicles through low-power FM radio.
“We believe our seniors have experienced enough online activities as a result of COVID-19. Holding our events in the physical manner in which we are planning will allow all seniors and their families to attend the same live ceremony together, and will give graduates the opportunity to watch each other collectively walk across the stage,” adds Derksen.
District administrators are appreciative of the community partners whose contributions have made these events possible for our graduating classes.
“We are so thankful for the Berkeley mall, the property owners, and the property managers for their incredible partnership and support in allowing our schools to use this space to hold our events,” adds Derksen. “We also thank Wayne Community College for allowing us to use their campus to line up processions; Wayne County Sheriff’s Department for leading processions; Goldsboro Police Department for supporting traffic control and security during ceremonies; Lamar Advertising for donating two billboards which will be used as our jumbo screens; and Pastor Josh and Amber Clark from the Generations Church who are lending us their low power FM equipment, used for weekly Drive-In services, in order for us to broadcast our ceremonies.”
The dates for the WCPS graduation events are as follows:
|# of Grads
|June 8, 2020
|Wayne Early/Middle College High School
|June 9, 2020
|Wayne School of Engineering
|June 10, 2020
|June 11, 2020
|June 15, 2020
|Spring Creek High
|June 16, 2020
|Southern Wayne High
|June 17, 2020
|Eastern Wayne High
|June 18, 2020
|Charles B. Aycock High
Why are WCPS schools not holding “Face to Face” graduations?
North Carolina School districts are bound by the Governor’s Executive Orders and approved guidance released by the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services for how graduation events can occur. At this time school districts cannot hold events that would have gatherings of more than 10 people. While some school districts have announced tentative plans for “face to face” graduations in some form, and with some potentially occurring as late July or August, all plans are contingent upon the North Carolina Governor and NCDHHS loosening requirements on gathering sizes specific to graduation.
Dr. Michael Dunsmore, WCPS superintendent, expresses the following concerns about holding larger “face to face” ceremonies:
“Wayne County Public Schools has considered all options for graduations and has worked to develop a plan that will offer our seniors more traditional ceremonies within our current COVID-19 environment. In considering larger ‘face to face’ gatherings, we have determined that there are a number of significant issues that cannot be ignored.
We don’t know when North Carolina will loosen requirements for graduation ceremony gathering sizes. We have graduating seniors who are departing very soon for the military and who will be unable to wait to attend a ceremony later in the summer. Additionally, we would anticipate even with larger gatherings approved, a school may still have to hold several smaller ceremonies to graduate their senior class, meaning they cannot graduate as a class together.
The thing that gives me greatest pause, is the safety issue related to holding larger events. Even with social distancing and other safety measures in place, there is a greater chance in a larger gathering that a graduate or family member may inadvertently become exposed to COVID-19 and potentially become seriously ill. I want all of our events to be celebrations for the milestones that our classes of 2020 have achieved. As superintendent, I am cautious about any plans that could potentially cause attendees harm or cause a graduate to experience guilt or any other emotions because a classmate or family member was exposed to COVID-19 at their ceremony.”
Is the WCPS Graduation Plan safe and are graduates required to attend?
All of the details and logistics of the WCPS Graduation Plan have been vetted by local health officials, law enforcement, and emergency management officials.
“All of the agencies who have been made aware of these plans have been very excited about how we are going to honor this year’s seniors, and have complemented the thought WCPS has put into the safety and planning for these events,” adds Derksen.
There are no attendance requirements for seniors. All attendees will be encouraged to make their own personal health decisions regarding attendance and to consider others. As part of the district’s guidance, seniors or guests should not attend if they have been recently exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing similar symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, etc.
The district will be streaming the ceremony to allow graduates or family members unable to attend to watch from home. A video recording of the event will also be posted to the district website and cable Channel 18 on Spectrum Cable.
Will graduates and guests have to wear masks or face coverings?
While all WCPS staff working with the events will be wearing masks or face coverings, graduates and their guests will not be required to wear face coverings in their vehicles. Graduates will be strongly encouraged, but not required, to wear face coverings when outside of their vehicles when walking to or across the stage. While led in groups of six at a time, all students will be guided from their vehicles to a waiting area and the stage, all while standing eight foot apart.
Why can I only bring three guests in my vehicle?
While we understand why graduates would like more guests, three guests, in addition to the graduate, simply makes it easier for everyone in a vehicle to see the ceremony without having to open windows or exit the vehicle. Having fewer guests also reduces the need to bring larger vehicles, which could potentially inhibit another vehicle’s view. As a result, the strict limit on guests was necessary.
Are any vehicles prohibited for these ceremonies?
While large trucks, SUVs, and other large vehicles are discouraged, limousines, conversion and/or 15 passenger vans, RVs, jeeps/trucks with camper shell tops, vehicles with lift kits, and all oversized vehicles are prohibited. Doorless/windowless vehicles are also prohibited. Vehicles that have convertible tops are only allowed to be open during the moving vehicle procession. Convertible tops are prohibited from being open at Wayne Community College and during the ceremony. Graduates and/or guest are also prohibited from riding or sitting in the beds of pickup trucks while moving or parked
What happens if it rains?
Tentative rain dates have been identified and will be announced as quickly as possible if an event is canceled due to weather.