Athens High School is ready for a ‘COVID graduation’

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ATHENS, Ala. – Graduating seniors across the country are approaching the end of their high school careers in a way they may not have planned, but in a way that will certainly be memorable.

Athens High School is having a COVID-style graduation ceremony on Thursday, May 21, at 7 p.m. at the Athens High School stadium.

“When we started the year we didn’t expect this, and as life always gives us those curves, our seniors get to deal with it firsthand,” said executive principal Dr. Rick Carter.

Carter said the seniors were surveyed about what they wanted graduation to look like this year. They were given the options of a virtual graduation, a drive-through graduation, or a ceremony that could be as traditional as is possible in the current climate. Over 80 percent of seniors said they wanted it to be as close as traditional as possible.

“For us as a staff, as a community, it was very important that we have that right of passage that so many of our graduates have gone through over the decades,” Carter said.

240 seniors will walk Thursday night while a limited number of spectators watch.

“To meet the constraints, we had to condense down to a minimum of 6 feet spacing between each family based on the governors order.”

The home side of the stadium can normally seat about 5,500 people, but for graduation, only about 1,900 spectators will be allowed in the stands to comply with social distancing guidelines.

Each graduating senior was given 5 tickets for family members and friends to attend. The high school also has a plan for spectators wanting to participate who are high-risk, or aren’t comfortable being around so many people.

“A drive in theater if you will,” Carter said. “Where they have a reserved ticket that gets them in the parking spot where they can watch graduation on a drive-in screen, and see and hear just as if they were there from the comforts of their car.”

Families will not be allowed on the field after graduation. And socially-distanced photo opportunities with the principal and superintendent will still happen, and they’ll actually be photoshopped afterward to look like the traditional diploma handshake.

Diplomas will be sanitized and graduates will pick them up from a table themselves.

“Our kids can look back decades from now, and even though it was a COVID graduation, the first ever, they’ll have some memories that are good,” Carter said.

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