Governor wants seniors to have graduation ceremony as close to traditional as possible

Graduating seniors turn their tassels at the conclusion of the Independence's High School's commencement ceremony at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center in May 2019. (Register-Herald file photo)

On the eve of altered and improvised graduations ceremonies throughout Raleigh County, Gov. Jim Justice made it clear in a briefing Thursday afternoon that all state high school graduates should have a graduation ceremony that is as close to traditional as possible.

Justice said the Department of Education is reaching out to school superintendents in an attempt to come up with a way to have some form of ceremony.

Official, school sponsored graduation ceremonies for the four Raleigh County High Schools – complete with diplomas – will take place this weekend on the following schedule:

• Liberty High School — Friday, May 22 at 11 a.m.

• Independence High School — Saturday, May 23 at 10 a.m.

• Woodrow Wilson High School — Saturday, May 23 at 3:30 p.m.

• Shady Spring High School — Friday, May 22 at 4:30 p.m.

“When we had to cancel school through the end of the year I said to please remember one thing,” Raleigh County Superintendent David Price told The Register-Herald when announcing the district’s plans. “Let’s find a way for our graduates to be able to walk up and accept a diploma.

"There's been a lot of discussion on social media, and a lot of people think this will just be considered a drive-through graduation ceremony where they'll just be handed their diploma through the window and that will be the end of it," Price said. "That is definitely not the case."

Each graduation ceremony will be shown on multiple different streaming services — including Channel 130 for those who have Suddenlink cable, the Ruku streaming service, YouTube Live, and Facebook live, Price said.

Parents will be able to be in their vehicles, drive their graduates up to a designated area where they will be able to get out of vehicles in groups of 10 to control the setting of no more than 25 individuals gathering at once. Students who were scheduled to give speeches will still have the opportunity to do so, and parents in vehicles will be able to hear those speeches through their radio by tuning into 107.7 The River.

"All students names will be broadcasted live through that station, so those in their vehicles can hear it," Price explained. "Students will still get to celebrate, turn their tassels, and professional photographers will be their taking photos.

But not everyone was happy with the district’s plans with Liberty students receiving a special though unofficial send-off this past weekend.

According to a report by WOAY-TV, Rhonda Calloway, owner of the Hidden Valley Golf Course, allowed her land to be used for the ceremony – with help from friends and family.

The school didn’t have anything to do with organizing the ceremony, Calloway said. She thought only a few families would show up, she told the television station, but nearly the entire graduating class of Liberty High ended attending.

The ceremony included speeches by the valedictorian and salutatorian, and students were recognized when their names were called.

Gov. Justice said it is meaningful to the families and to the graduates to recognize their accomplishments.

“We may have to wears masks and spread out,” he said, “but we will be able to see these kids.”

Even if it is not held until after mid-July, he said a graduation ceremony should be held.

“I hope and pray we will be able to come up with something,” he said.

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