This Sunday, May 17, was the date originally set for the Great Bend High School Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony. Our graduates, and virtually every other graduating class in the United States, could have expected to enter the ceremony to strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” by Sir Edward Elgar.
Superintendent Khris Thexton spoke about plans for the GBHS graduation on Thursday during a Great Bend Chamber Virtual Coffee hosted by the school district.
The seniors are missing what Thexton called their “lasts.” A last prom. A last performance on the GBHS stage or with the Madrigals. And for now, at least, that last assembly for commencement at Memorial Stadium is gone.
The biggest “last” that Great Bend seniors missed was probably their last day of school together. They went on spring break expecting to see each other again, but before that could happen all Kansas schools were closed for the rest of the semester.
Other grades also missed those “lasts,” but can expect another chance next year.
Closure is important for everyone and especially for young people, Thexton said.
“We talked to the leadership of the senior class. They still want a traditional graduation where they will walk across the stage,” he said.
One tentative plan that fell through was to reschedule the May ceremony for 5 p.m. on June 14. Shortly after that plan was announced, the governor revealed the phases of the Ad Astra Plan to reopen Kansas. The phase that will allow mass gatherings of more than 90 people will start no earlier than June 15.
Assistant Principal Randy Wetzel was among those who noted, “we’re only off by seven hours,” Thexton said. Indeed, some seniors would enjoy a ceremony at 12:01 a.m. on June 15. But that won’t work for all of the parents and grandparents, and Thursday afternoon we learned that Kansas won’t be ready to allow mass gatherings of that size before June 29, at the earliest.
COVID-19 is the circumstance that delays our students’ processional. Whatever date is finally available and whatever is done will be in line with the governor’s plan and with a goal of protecting everyone involved, Thexton said.
What is planned for Friday, May 15, is the final “Be the Light” or “Friday Night Lights” event. The lights at Memorial Stadium will be turned on at 9 p.m., as they have been each Friday for the past four weeks. The staff will set up chairs and balloons on the football field to mark this milestone for 216 graduating seniors.
Those who go by the stadium can also view flags on the fence, featuring student faces. These will be on display through the month of May.
This may not be the closure that students and families wanted at the end of 12 years of work to earn a diploma, but commencement continues to be the beginning, not the end. We’re celebrating what lies ahead, and we expect great things from the Class of 2020.