“For those who thought a virtual graduation was going to be boring, it’s not,” West Geauga Superintendent Richard Markwardt said. “It will be anything but boring, but it will also be very nontraditional.”

The West Geauga Local School District Class of 2020, much like many seniors across the country, may not receive a traditional graduation ceremony this year due to the COVID-19 health crisis, but school officials will do what they can to make the end of the school year memorable for the graduating students and their families.

During their regular meeting on May 11, Dr. Markwardt informed the West Geauga Board of Education of plans in the works for this year’s graduating class, including a parade, compiling a video to screen for the seniors and fireworks. In this plan, he explained, students will even be able to walk across a stage to receive their diplomas.

“A lot of our efforts lately have been spent focusing on COVID-19, the challenges and the opportunities that have arisen as a result of that,” Dr. Markwardt said, noting that a great deal of attention has been set on the district for plans for senior prom and graduation.

He said that while prom is “on hold” at this point, West Geauga High School Principal Jay Bishop and student leaders “have spent a great deal of time trying to determine a way that we can have a virtual graduation that is actually meaningful to our students and celebratory for them and for their families.”

So far, Dr. Markwardt said, plans include students receiving their diplomas individually on a stage outside the high school “with a certain degree of fanfare.” Students will walk across the stage one-by-one, being dropped off and picked up in the order they would have lined up in a traditional ceremony. He added that there are plans to include a parade where parents and staff can see their students drive by in separate vehicles.

Dr. Markwardt said the graduation will be videotaped and edited together to screen at a drive-in for the seniors to watch at a later time, while still maintaining social distancing constraints in their own vehicles. He added that the district plans to also include fireworks for that evening.

“About the only thing missing is the proximity of the kids to each other and the ability to hug their friends and to share laughs and to share their camaraderie with other students at that event,” he said.

In the event that restriction are lifted and students can hold a traditional ceremony by August, Dr. Markwardt said the district will have missed the opportunity to book the event at Severance Hall in Cleveland, as originally planned. Instead, the district will hold an event similar to their 2015 graduation in that students will be able to walk across a stage together on the football field.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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