SHS graduates 305 seniors over two days

Published 9:32 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2020

By Stephen Faleski

Staff Writer


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Rows upon rows of empty auditorium seats awaited Smithfield High School senior Devon Hubble as she walked across the graduation stage, diploma in hand, last Wednesday.

She had been allowed to bring up to four guests to witness her graduation in-person — having chosen her parents, sister and boyfriend — with the only others present being school division personnel and one Smithfield Times reporter. All wore face masks, except for Hubble, her guests and SHS Interim Principal Christopher Coleman, who stood properly distanced from Hubble behind a lectern.

Such is the reality for the SHS class of 2020, whose senior year has been marred by a global pandemic that, as of last week, had claimed the lives of 100,000 Americans according to the Associated Press. According to division spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, SHS’s graduation was spread over two days — Tuesday and Wednesday — with each student scheduled to walk across the stage at a specific time, thus ensuring that none came within six feet of any other students or their guests.

Each student was filmed as he or she walked across the stage. The division plans to combine resulting video clips into a YouTube video that will be released on June 13, the date SHS’s in-person graduation would have been held had the COVID-19 pandemic not occurred. Each graduate will also receive a jump drive with a copy of the video.

Hubble is still hoping for a more typical graduation ceremony later this year, though, as is her classmate Devin Strother, who, earlier this school year, had obtained more than 2,000 signatures on a petition to keep SHS’s graduation outdoors on the school’s football field. Prior to the pandemic, the school division had planned to relocate the event inside the SHS gymnasium, stating that heat and bad weather had been issues in past years with the outdoor setting.

“I expected not to have a graduation at all, so I guess this is the next best solution given the situation,” Strother said. “It does make me feel like the petition I did was for nothing … I know this obviously wasn’t their master plan, but I can’t help a small part of me feels that way.”

While Hubble said she felt each student being allowed four in-person guests was adequate, Strother said that had COVID-19 not happened, four wouldn’t have been nearly enough, as most of her family lives out of state. Four, however, was enough to accommodate her immediate family and one of her cousins who happened to be in town last week, Strother said.

A traditional graduation ceremony wasn’t the only thing SHS’s 305 graduates ended up doing without this year. Prom, a senior class trip and even a chance to stage a senior prank on the final day of school all had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Suddenly, school just ended,” Strother said. “We weren’t able to say goodbye to teachers or friends that we’ve known most all of high school. Working 12 years for a small ceremony to just be put on YouTube is like a slap in the face.”

If a later graduation ceremony doesn’t happen, Strother said the Isle of Wight County School Board should expect another petition. “If not from me, then someone else,” she said.

The division hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a more traditional ceremony later in the year.

“We haven’t said, ‘This is it, nothing else,’” Briggs said.