CORRECTION: This article was updated at 1:56 p.m. Friday, May 29, 2020, to correct the title of senior Madison Pittman.
BEAUFORT — An estimated 580 county public high school seniors have persevered through the novel coronavirus pandemic and virtual classwork in order to graduate.
Their patience was further tested as they waited for the school board to make a final decision Thursday regarding commencement exercises at the three county high schools.
The board, during an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon, announced “hybrid” commencement exercises could proceed as planned at two county high schools next week, but East Carteret High would have to wait until after Wednesday, July 1, before a semi-traditional ceremony could be held.
In light of the board’s decision, the ECHS administration and a school committee met Friday morning to revamp plans that had originally called for an outdoor ceremony with students social distanced Friday, June 5.
ECHS Principal Deborah Trogdon announced Friday students will have two options to choose from. The first option will be a “hybrid” graduation ceremony June 5, with small groups of students receiving diplomas in the auditorium. The second option will be a semi-traditional outside ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 10.
“We know we have families that won’t want to wait until July, so we wanted them to have an earlier option,” Ms. Trogdon said.
She added that families are being surveyed as to which ceremony they prefer. Families must have surveys returned by midnight Sunday, then ECHS will set the times families will be able to come in for the June 5 ceremony.
“We need to know how many students want to come in Friday before we can finalize the times. It will be by appointment,” Ms. Trogdon said.
The June 5 option will allow no more than six family members to witness the graduate receiving their diploma to adhere to social distancing executive orders.
The July 10 ceremony will be on the football field with graduates social distanced and a restricted number of guests social distanced in the stadium. A final video that combines both ceremonies will be shown following the July 10 ceremony.
During the emergency Carteret County Board of Education meeting Thursday, members approved “hybrid” ceremonies scheduled for next week at West Carteret High School and Croatan High School.
Board Chairman John McLean said the reason for asking ECHS to wait until after July 1 for a more traditional ceremony relates to Gov. Roy Cooper planning to move into phase three of reopening the state at that time.
“We all wish we could have had a traditional graduation, but our job is to protect our students and system staff,” he said.
As for WCHS, its graduation involves small groups of students coming into the auditorium to receive diplomas from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday. The entire ceremony will be videotaped, then broadcast at 6:30 p.m. June 5 on the school system’s Facebook page and website. Pre-recorded speeches by students, instructors and administrators will be included during the broadcast.
At CHS, the ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. June 5 outdoors. A stage will be set up outside, with students and families remaining in their vehicles. Families will tune in to a radio station as the program is broadcast from the stage. As each student’s name is called, the family will drive up to the podium, where the student will get out and receive their diploma.
As officials ironed out how members of the Class of 2020 would receive their diplomas, seniors from the three high schools Wednesday shared their perspectives on how the year is ending.
ECHS senior Harrison Goodwin of Sea Level said, “As much as I wish the school year had not been affected, it’s still been a pretty good year, even with the complications. It’s been a trying experience, but it’s still been pretty nice to be able to stay home and complete my work online.”
He thanked his teachers and said he plans to major in engineering at N.C. State University in the fall.
WCHS student body president Madison Pittman of Morehead City said she was looking forward to graduation.
“It’s obviously not been the ideal senior year, but given the circumstances they’ve done a really good job trying to make the best of it,” she said. “I think it’s obviously not the same as a normal graduation, but for what we are dealing with, they are working really hard to make up for it.”
Ms. Pittman plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to major in chemistry, with future plans of becoming a pediatric dentist.
CHS senior Natalie Show of Newport said, “It’s been hard not seeing my friends and not having prom. It’s been sad, but really memorable.”
Ms. Show leaves Tuesday, June 30, for boot camp with the U.S. Air Force Reserves. She plans to work in geospatial intelligence.
In addition to public high schools, Gramercy Christian School in Newport will hold a baccalaureate service Friday for its 10 graduates. It will be open for parents to attend.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.