Around 2,000 seniors from 11 Sumner County high schools celebrated commencement exercises this past weekend.
The graduations were held six weeks later than normal and capped off an historic school year in which students left for spring break on March 13 and never returned to their physical classrooms due to a global coronavirus pandemic.
The new coronavirus – or COVID-19 – continued to be a key factor at local graduations where social distancing guidelines limited the number of friends and family members allowed to attend. Still, when so many school districts have opted to cancel graduations or hold drive-by ceremonies, most seemed thankful for the modified ceremonies in Sumner County.
Schools limited the number to three or four guests per graduate and encouraged social distancing by marking off certain areas of seating or placing chairs farther apart than normal. They also made the use of masks optional. Most of the schools made the ceremony available online as well.
Gina Carpenter’s daughter Lauren was one of 356 students who graduated from Station Camp High School on Friday.
Station Camp was one of four Sumner County high schools to hold its commencement at Long Hollow Baptist Church.
Schools who used the church facility had been initially told that due to social distancing and the capacity of the church’s buildings, seniors would graduate in a separate room from parents. After receiving feedback from parents about the proposed plan, Director of Schools Del Phillips met with church staff to try to figure out a compromise.
“I felt like the compromise they made was a good one,” said Carpenter. Students were distanced apart in one building while spectators – three per family – gathered in the sanctuary. Speakers addressed the crowd in the same room as the parents while seniors watched on a live feed. Students filed in one by one into the sanctuary to receive their diplomas, and then headed back to the other room.
“It was perfect that we got to see her walk across the stage,” Carpenter added. “It felt like graduation.”
Stephanie Harville attended her 10th Gallatin High School graduation on Friday in the school’s gym as she watched her youngest son Jaden walk across the stage.
“I thought it was such a special ceremony,” said Harville, who is also a GHS graduate.
Although some of the speeches were cut short, and fewer people were able to attend, Harville said the service was “still very heartwarming and special.”
Harville was particularly touched when all of the seniors who had been working as essential employees during the COVID-19 pandemic were asked to stand.
“I think a lot of times we hear that today’s teens are entitled or selfish,” she said. “And that’s just not the case.
“You could see first-hand that these kids haven’t been just sitting around,” Harville added. “It just made me really proud of the Class of 2020.”
Beech High School held its 40th annual commencement on Saturday – also at Long Hollow Baptist Church.
“You guys have been through a lot,” Principal Kenny Powell said to the parents of more than 200 Beech graduates.
Powell noted that while this year’s seniors missed several milestones, he has seen a lot of good come out of the pandemic as well.
“For seniors the last nine weeks is usually the [most fun],” Powell said. “They are enduring this pandemic with character.”
Beech High School Valedictorian Charlotte Lawson encouraged her classmates to not be afraid to fail and to persevere during difficult times.
“Be strong and courageous and don’t quit when things don’t turn out the way you wanted them to,” said Lawson. “Despite the obstacles, we made it!”
“I’m just glad that we were able to have it,” said Cassie Garro whose daughter, Madisyn Boekholder, graduated from Hendersonville High School on Friday.
Garro admitted that she was disappointed that originally the school said that six tickets would be available, but then they limited the number to four guests.
“I was a little bummed about that at first,” she said. “But I’ve got a ton of people back at the house watching it online.”