Local high schools’ class of 2020 get their diplomas to go

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

About 1,300 local students graduated over the last several days, with Harrisonburg High School seniors receiving their diplomas one at a time in a near empty football field and county grads celebrating in front of a sea of cars at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds.

With COVID-19 making traditional ceremonies untenable, school staff came up with creative alternatives to mark the next chapter of these young adults’ lives.

A Harrisonburg High School student cheers on a graduating classmate on Saturday. Graduates, walking one at a time, were allowed to have 10 people on the football field to watch them receive their diploma and take photos.

Other loved ones watched from the sidelines or in their vehicles.

The drive-through graduation took four days, in part thanks to torrential downpours on Friday afternoon. Of the 436 graduates, about 400 of them chose to walk in the alternative ceremony.

Isaac Metzler Sawin walks off the field a high school graduate.

Mohammed Salman poses for a photo with his family.

School board member Kaylene Seigle celebrated Rachael Wilcox’s graduation, Blue Streak cowbell in hand.

Harrisonburg modeled their ceremony after that of Louisa County.

“Staff have been working so hard on this. It came about very quickly, the idea did. It just seemed very painful to us that we would end, or I would say change, go through this transition without some closure,” Superintendent Michael Richards said.

Math teacher Shaymaa Alsadoon passes out yard signs at one of the drive-through stations outside the high school.

Logan Wolter’s family cheers, social distance-style.

“It has gone very well and it’s taken a village. Everything, miraculously, has worked out on time, except for the weather delays,” said Principal Melissa Hensley. “The smiles, the tears of joy, and the celebrations carrying on on this field are irreplaceable.”

Julyssa Cain accepts a bouquet after walking across the stage.

Later that day, graduates of East Rockingham High School gathered at the Rockingham County fairgrounds for a drive-in ceremony.

Although attendees were initially asked to remain in their cars until the graduates were called up to the stage in small groups, families and friends milled about the field, celebrating.

Graduating senior Michael Rogers sings the national anthem to open the festivities.

Rockingham County Public Schools administrators hired professionals to handle their parking, and used Google maps, plus a few tips from the University of Tennessee, to calculate how many cars they could fit in front of the stage.

Some families had asked the school to hold a traditional graduation, regardless of the governor’s orders.

“It’s disappointing for us, too. I think that’s always important to let the community know. We all would have loved a regular graduation. We all would have loved a regular spring … at Spotswood High School I coach girls’ soccer, so we lost a season,” Scheikl said. “We tried to make it as special as we could even though it wasn’t exactly the ideal scenario.”

The student speakers, including class secretary Makayla Jones, sanitized the microphone after each address.

Some young spectators brought refreshments.

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