Okaloosa County high school seniors are experiencing a new way of graduating this year due to the COVID-19 virus.
“Graduation is the culmination of 13 years of school,” said John Spolski, principal of Fort Walton Beach High School. “It gives us the opportunity to capture that moment.”
Instead of the traditional ceremonies, the Okaloosa County School District implemented a new strategy to celebrate and honor graduating seniors.
The strategy will include two parts, an in-person graduation and a virtual graduation.
“We’ll have the best of both worlds,” Horton said.
The first of the two-part ceremony began this past Thursday and Friday for seniors at Baker and Laurel Hill High School.
The virtual ceremony will consist of a professionally produced and edited video of students walking up the stage in their caps and gowns. The video will also show speeches from students and faculty.
Mike Martello, the principal of Baker High School, said they decorated the auditorium with the run-out banner, and the school’s mascot made an appearance sporting his own mask.
“We’re very thankful to honor the seniors,” Martello said. “All of the students were appreciative of the efforts.”
The Okaloosa County School District will be holding video sessions for the other district high schools in the next two weeks.
Fort Walton Beach, Niceville, and Choctawhatchee are several of the schools holding their video session next week, along with Silver Sands and Richbourg.
Crestview High School’s ceremony will be held the following week.
While the quality of production and the look of the video will be the same for all of the Okaloosa County schools, there may be slight differences. Horton said each school identifies their own speakers, and may have a particular way of doing certain parts of the ceremony.
Every virtual ceremony is a way for students who may not be able to participate in the in-person ceremony to still have the opportunity to walk at graduation.
“I want each of our students to have something they can look back on with a sense of pride and accomplishment,” said Superintendent Marcus Chambers in an email.
Assistant Superintendent Steve Horton said the school district conducted a survey, and the results said around 83% wanted some type of “on the field” graduation.
Horton said in July, the school plans to have smaller ceremonies based on social distancing guidelines.
“This is a group of students who persevered,” Horton said.
Chambers said as a parent of a senior graduating this year, he can relate to the feelings and emotions of parents with graduating seniors.
“For this group of seniors, who haven’t been able to do so the last few months, I think it will carry even more meaning,” Chambers said in the email. “I want every student and parent to feel as though we have done all we can to honor the Class of 2020.”