GW graduation

George Washington High School graduates listen at the 2019 commencement ceremony. This year's graduation will look vastly different in the era of social distancing.

The graduation ceremonies for George Washington High School and Galileo Magnet High School will not be traditional, but they will happen.

And school personnel have put together graduation plans in an attempt to make them as normal as possible within the guidelines of social distancing in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

In letters sent to parents, guardians and students last week, GW and Galileo administrators outlined ceremonies that incorporate some of the drive-thru components seen in many recent public events, but that also allow students to walk across a stage and receive a diploma.

“They’re missing out on so many things that a typical senior would get their senior year,” said Galileo Principal Michelle Ramsey, “and we wanted to make sure that they did not miss out on actually receiving their diploma and having a special experience.”

GW’s graduation was originally rescheduled to July 11 at Averett University’s North Campus, but will now take place June 1-3 on the high school’s campus. Galileo’s ceremony was set for July 10 at GW campus, but will now take place May 29 on Galileo’s campus.

The letters to each school’s respective community said the state superintendent has cautioned that large groups of people may not be permitted until August, creating the need for a new plan.

GW’s letter outlines a graduation process that will honor all 280 seniors in approximately 18 hours across three days. Students will be assigned a date and time to be at the school for their graduation slot.

Starting at 10 a.m. on June 1, seniors will be dropped off at the gymnasium entrance and permitted to take a trip around the school. Along the way, students will stop by different stations to receive any honors they earned and take cap and gown photos.

Each student can have two vehicles with five or fewer occupants to loop from the gymnasium around the school to the front of the building, where family members and other loved ones can get out of the cars to take photos as the student receives a diploma on a stage.

The Galileo graduation will operate in much the same way, with graduates being dropped off in caps and gowns in front of the cafeteria and then progressing through indoor stations to drop off textbooks and uniforms while also picking up graduation cords and other honors.

Ramsey said the entire 72-student graduating class will be able to graduate throughout the same day.

“We’re going to be able to do it in one day, but it’s going to be an all-day affair,” she said.

Students will also be able to record messages to fellow graduates, view a slideshow of pictures from the year, read notes from school faculty and take proper cap-and-gown portraits.

“We’re also going to have teachers volunteer to work the stations, so [students] have last goodbyes with those teachers,” Ramsey said.

The messages students record to share memories or goodbyes will all be compiled into one video and distributed after the ceremony.

Once students exit the school, they will receive their diploma on a stage outside. Similar to GW’s ceremony, only two cars with five or fewer people per graduate will be allowed in front of the stage for pictures.

Galileo will also have valedictorian, salutatorian and commencement speeches. Wyatt Lee Carter, a Galileo graduate of 2008 and a current teacher there, will give the commencement address.

Students at both schools will receive their designated time for graduation once grades are finalized.

GW valedictorian India Womack has not received any official indication that she’ll be able to give her speech given the three-day format of her school’s ceremony, but she’s currently brainstorming ideas for how to record and distribute her message to her classmates.

More than anything, she’s grateful there will be a graduation ceremony at all.

“I appreciate the effort our principal has put in to make it special for us,” Womack said. “I wish we could have a normal graduation, but due to the circumstances, I feel like this is a very good alternative. I feel like letting us walk through the school, get our awards and all that, will make it even more special.”

Cotton reports for the Register & Bee.

Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton. 

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