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High schools find ways to honor seniors during shutdown

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY – High schools are attempting to honor seniors in lieu of the traditional graduation ceremonies amid the COVID-19 shutdown.

High schools rolled out yard signs for seniors last week, and began lighting up their stadiums at 8:20 p.m., which is 20:20 in military time, as a way to show support for graduates in both high schools and colleges. Gov. Roy Cooper extended the state’s stay-at-home order to May 8 on Thursday, and all public schools are closed until May 15.

Schools release on May 23, and RSS Superintendent Lynn Moody said there are no plans to hold traditional graduation ceremonies at the expected time. The district has promised seniors an in-person ceremony at some point after the pandemic subsides.

The district began school Aug. 1, a few weeks earlier than most other districts in the state due to the flexibility afforded by renewal for the district to set its calendar outside of state parameters.

“We got in a lot more instruction than other districts did,” Moody said.

But the district is ending school earlier than other districts as a result. If schools released students in June, there would be no guarantee the districts could hold graduation ceremonies anyway. The state may not lift the stay-at-home order on May 8 depending on the situation with COVID-19, and Cooper said there would be an easing approach rather than all guidelines being lifted at once. He did not specify Thursday what the gathering limit would be raised to.

“I would not be recommending that we go back,” Moody said.

Salisbury High School teacher Sandra Sullivan helped hand deliver yard signs to each senior at the school, and an anonymous donor stepped in to purchase all 150 of the signs the school gave out. Sullivan said everyone who helped out took 15 signs, set them up in yards and spoke to families.

Sullivan said they were surprised when SHS Principal Luke Brown told them the cost of the signs were covered.

East Rowan High also placed senior sports banners at the school to honor spring athletes who had their final seasons cut short by the pandemic. It has been making videos as well as hosting senior meetings online.

“They’re heartbroken, obviously,” East Rowan High School Principal Tonya German said about the class of 2020. “One thing that brings them solace is they know they are not in this alone.”

Catawba College, several regional community colleges, Rowan County high schools and others from surrounding counties are all participating in the “Be The light” movement and lighting up their stadiums for the rest of April into late May to honor graduating seniors.

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