By Richard Rourk
On Saturday, July 25, 145 members of the Unicoi County High School class of 2020 gathered together for the final time to receive their diplomas.
“We had 57 for our 10 a.m. ceremony and 88 for our 1 p.m. ceremony,” UCHS Director of Schools John English said. “We had four students that were military and they have gone onto their training, but overall most of our graduates were able to come back and attend one of the two ceremonies.”
Although COVID-19 forced changes to a traditional graduation, the class of 2020 persevered. For graduate Chelsea Kinil, the graduation ceremony was bittersweet.
“A lot of people have told me they don’t remember their graduation, but I think given the circumstances, this is going to be a graduation that we will never forget,” Kinil said.
Graduate Zach Thompson sees this ceremony as the beginning of something bigger, not just the end of high school.
“We are going into the unknown; we don’t know what is going to happen,” Thompson said. “It’s scary, but we are prepared.”
Graduate Brandolyn Thomas, who spoke at both ceremonies, was excited and nervous for graduation.
“It’s the first time we have done something like this, so there’s just an unknown,” Thomas said prior to graduation.
According to English, Saturday’s ceremonies were successful.
“I was really pleased with it,” English said. “It couldn’t have gone any better. Our staff, students and families really gave good feedback. (UCHS principal) Dr. (Chris) Bogart pushed for a more traditional ceremony and I’m glad it worked out.”
English acknowledged that everyone’s safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was first priority.
“Everyone was supportive of wearing a mask,” English said. “Overall I think that everyone was just appreciative of having the graduation in person. It’s no surprise that everyone cooperated. We have a great staff, great students and a great community.”
Following Saturday’s graduation, English began shifting gears to focus on the 2020-21 school year during a global pandemic.
“We are seeing an uptick in numbers in community and we are working with the health department daily, so with that said, we are taking a hard look at how we will start the school year this week,” English said. “We hope to have a final say by the end of the week, so we hope that folks will keep an eye out for that. Our number one goal is the physical health and safety of our students and staff and then our goal to provide academic and social milestones for our students – trying to balance that out has gotten tricky.”
According to English, virtual town halls may be on the horizon to get feedback from the community in regards to the 2020-21 school year.
“We are looking at doing Facebook live style conversations with elementary, middle and high school students and families in the very near future,” English said.
Please follow Unicoi County Schools News and Announcements on Facebook and unicoischools.com for further updates.