It’s the pinnacle moment for teenage students throughout the nation and the one day they work toward for 13 years of education — walking across the stage to receive their high school diploma.
Unfortunately for the Class of 2020 at Junction City High School that day will be replaced by an online ceremony with photos displayed as students’ names are called.
One senior, Alyssa Leon, started a petition for the district to change their plans in order for the seniors to have their moment to shine in front of friends and family.
“At Junction City High School, we’re always taught to think outside the box and create solutions for problems,” she said. “So, when we got the email saying that we’re going to have an e-graduation where we have photos of ourselves … they’ll say their name. I felt like us as seniors were being robbed of all of our hard work and dedication that we put in. I’ve seen that other school districts were postponing their graduation for the seniors, so that they can still have a traditional ceremony at a later date. And I’ve also seen that they were giving their seniors a voice, and actually letting them vote on if they would like a traditional graduation, or what they would like to do. So I decided to make a petition, and try and help our situation.”
The petition, www.change.org/p/usd475-let-the-class-of-2020-walk, has had more than 1,500 signatures online — many from the students at JCHS.
Leon said the support has been high from her fellow classmates and the members of the student leadership.
“I have full support from all my classmates, they agree with it,” she said. “And on the petition, I see a lot of my schoolmates’ names on there.”
Sacha Dent, Geary County Schools USD 475 Marketing and Media Relations specialist sent out a message from the district last week stating:
Graduation planning decisions are made by a committee of Senior class sponsors, principals and teachers from JCHS. The difficult decision to hold a virtual graduation ceremony was determined after evaluating many factors outside of the committee’s control. The most important factor is ensuring the health and safety of students and their families. Additionally, the Governor of Kansas has closed all school buildings and prohibited in person activities until after May 31, 2020.
We have no idea when, or if, it will be safe to hold a large public gathering, and health experts indicate that it will not be within the next few months, and perhaps not in the next year, the release continued. Another factor that was considered is that more than 50% of the students that attend the district are connected to the military, which means that there are a high number of students moving in and out of the district every year. In many cases, families stay behind to finish out the school year, while their military family member moves to the new duty station without them.
With all of these considerations in mind, the committee felt it would be best to plan for a virtual graduation ceremony now, yet it also maintains the hope that JCHS could arrange a celebratory event later in the year. A delay in plans could prevent many of our seniors from participating in graduation, as they move on to be with families, start jobs or internships, or begin their first semester of college. Delaying the graduation ceremony to a later date could mean that many graduating seniors would not get to participate. There is also a very strong chance that any future date this summer would be cancelled, which would mean no graduation recognition would occur at all for the entire JCHS Class of 2020.
Leon asks the community to look back to their own graduation and remember how important it was to them and back the senior class in their endeavors.
“... think back to your own graduation,” she said. “How did you feel when you were walking across that stage and having everybody cheer you on. Think about us. Look at us through the seniors’ eyes and see how we would feel. And, think about all the parents who spent lots of money on all the graduation stuff — the caps and gowns, the invitations, the yearbooks. What if it’s their only child and what if they’re not going to go and have another graduation? I would just really like for them to see the senior class and look at it from our point of view.”
Several members of the USD 475 Board of Education addressed the issue during their comment section Tuesday night.
“I think this is just detrimental to the psychology and to these students not to have a graduation,” said Dr. Anwar Khoury. “I mean everything we do has risks but this graduation has to be definitely reconsidered — and I would push forward.”
During an online meeting between superintendent Dr. Reginald Eggleston and JCHS principal Melissa Sharp Wednesday, Sharp gave the reasoning behind the decision of the senior sponsors, senior class representatives and others.
She also said graduation is the largest event the district holds and she doesn’t want to be responsible for any negative outcomes from holding a ceremony in the way of future exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
“And with the exception of maybe Sundown Salute or a parade in our town, it is the largest community event that we hold,” she said. “It’s the largest event for our district, and I need to be a good steward for our community. I can’t risk putting a 3,000 person petri dish or bringing people from other states and counties into this community. I just can’t do it, and I say ‘I’, but that’s really driving us — safety has to be number one. And, if this group is criticized for being too safe and caring about our kids and our community — I’m good with that. I’m good with it.”
Sharp did mention a need to hold a capstone event in the future where the seniors would be able to gather, in their caps and gowns, and celebrate their accomplishments together when it is safe.