McARTHUR — Plans for Vinton County Local School District's drive-thru commencement ceremony, slated for Sunday, May 17, will move forward.

The District Board of Education moved at a special emergency meeting held on Saturday morning to proceed with the scheduled commencement ceremony.

Board of Education president Tom McManis noted that he and other Board members received messages, emails and other communication from some families in the district whose students did not receive certain commencement-related items — chords, trophies , medals and plaques associated with academic or other honors — during the senior commencement item pick-up event held Thursday, May 14. 

McManis voiced to other Board members that although these circumstances are unfortunate, commencement should move forward as planned, as many other families in the district have relatives travelling to the area to see their student relative graduate, parents and other relatives have requested off work, various personal celebrations have been scheduled for students.

Ultimately, he said postponing the planned commencement ceremony the day before the event would not give families enough time to adjust.

He also added that the district should consider holding an honors banquet or similar event as the district has in past years.

He also noted plans for a traditional commencement ceremony were in place before the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated mandates occurred, so district officials had to take things in an entirely different direction to honor graduates.

"I know by holding this special meeting, I've caused stress to students and families," McManis said. "And for that I take full responsibility. I apologize to the Class of 2020 and their parents for that."

District superintendent Rick Brooks recommended to the Board that commencement should move forward as planned, and he stated an upcoming event will be held to honor scholarship recipients separately.

"There won't be a student who won't be recognized and who won't receive the plaque or trophy or chords they earned," he said. "They've spent 13 years to get where they are at. The seniors in the 2020 class are very important to us."

All Board members voted to move forward with plans for the May 17 drive-thru commencement ceremony. Dr. Mildred Lane thanked district administration for organizing the upcoming event. Cindy Strausbaugh also suggested a ceremony of some kind to honor graduates who received academic honors. Jason Radabaugh noted for "selfish reasons" he wished he could hand his daughter McKenzie, a 2020 graduate, her diploma in a traditional commencement ceremony, but these "weird times" make that impossible.

"It's too late in the game to postpone," he said.

Board member Mary Ann Hale said that moving forward, communication between the district and the community should increase, as she heard from students in the district who allegedly weren't given an explanation as to why they didn't receive their items on time.

"Who dropped the ball?" she asked. "We should be thinking and listening to the public."

The commencement event will be available via livestream. The streaming information is currently on the district's website.

Below is the schedule for the day:

12:30 p.m. — Lineup of senior cars (one car per senior) begins along South Street/Veteran’s Drive between the caution light and VFW heading West towards the caution light.

  • Students must be in caps and gowns.
  • This will be your pass to line up for diploma presentation.
  • If students need to pick up their cap and gown, contact the high school.
  • Students are allowed to decorate cars as they would their hats. Must be in good taste.

1 p.m. — Procession begins

  • Cars will be escorted to the high school by first responders.

1:30 p.m. — Procession ends at high school

  • Traffic will be directed by law enforcement and school personnel.
  • Students’ cars will be lined up in the staff parking lot.
  • Any cars beyond these areas will wrap around the bus loop between the middle and high schools.

2 p.m. — Ceremony begins. The ceremony will be available via live stream and radio.

  • A welcome address will be given by Owen Salyer
  • The “Introduction of Ceremony and Remarks” will be provided by VCHS principal J.J. Milliken
  • A highlight of the accomplishments of the Senior Class will be provided
  • Student speeches will be provided. (the salutatorian and valedictorians will stay in their cars until the time of their speech, and they will return directly to their car afterward). The VCHS Class of 2020 Salutatorian is Lexie Walker. The Class’s valedictorians are the following: Rylee Fee, Jade Kempton-Trainer, Alyssa McKinniss, Abrianna McManis and Owen Salyer.
  • The presentation of the Class and roll call will be given by VCHS vice principal Joshua Kirkpatrick.
  • Owen Salyer will initiate the moving of the tassel and will wish the Class of 2020 good luck.

2:30 p.m. — Presentation of diplomas

  • Students will pull up to the front of the building, receive their diploma, turn their tassel and pose for one professional photo. All other family members must stay in the vehicle.
  • Supt. Brooks will meet students at their car and radio the name of each senior pulling up. This will allow staff to have the student’s diploma ready.

3-4 p.m. — Staff members will disinfect and prepare carts for diploma delivery.

  • After the presentation and picture, students are dismissed. There is not to be any gathering. The student parking lot will be closed.
  • Everyone is expected to follow all COVID guidelines as established by Ohio Department of Health.

sdawes@vintoncourier.com; @sydneydawes_95

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