HNHS graduation 2020: different - but still good

The family of Huntington North High School graduate Taylor Jewels Bowers records the moment she “walks” during the 2020 commencement exercises held Saturday, May 30. Because of restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, each graduate could only have four people accompany them to the ceremony.
The family of Huntington North High School graduate Taylor Jewels Bowers records the moment she “walks” during the 2020 commencement exercises held Saturday, May 30. Because of restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, each graduate could only have four people accompany them to the ceremony. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

It was a high school graduation that might not have happened, and reminded some of a scene from “The Twilight Zone,” no thanks to a virus that disrupted nearly every aspect of the lives of seniors in the Class of 2020.

But the show at Huntington North High School went on.

After juggling a variety of possibilities of how to graduate the school’s 308 seniors and conferring with school officials from a variety of districts, community members and the local board of health, seniors got their most fervent wish: to “walk” across the stage and receive their diplomas.

The way it happened, however, was unprecedented, in following the restrictions set forth by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to keep the COVID-19 virus from infecting graduates, their families and school staff alike. The dictate mandated that less than 100 people could be in the building at any time.

This year, the HNHS 54th graduation was divided into two days, beginning Friday evening, May 29. The first, shorter session saw speeches by Valedictorian Jessica Smith as well as co-salutatorians Haileigh Nissley and Logan Bolding and senior class officers. Then the students who were included in the Top 25 of Huntington North’s Class of 2020 walked across the stage to become the first to conclude their high school career.

But they, as well as the families who accompanied them, had to follow social-distancing guidelines, which turned the atmosphere inside North Arena unusually quiet. Only one group of family members – no more than four – were allowed inside the gymnasium at one time to view their graduate’s big moment.

Despite the drastic changes, Huntington County Community School Corporation Superintendent Chad Daugherty said Friday night’s ceremony went off without a hitch, with everyone making the most of the situation.

“I think it was personalized for our graduates, for them to be able to come in with their parents and then go ahead and go up on the stage and receive their diploma,” Daugherty said. “We had a lot of great response from parents and other family members that they really appreciated being able to come on the same weekend and then being able to come into North Arena and walk across the stage. We were able to accomplish those goals.”

Daugherty gave praise to high school staff and administrators, many of whom took on roles such as handing out individual diplomas and wiping down rails with disinfectant after each graduate walked through.

He also expressed his thanks to the Class of 2020 for the class gift – a total of $7,000 – to be divided in half, with $3,500 going toward a scholarship to honor student Lucas Grube and the remainder to be gifted toward the construction of the Drake Goetz Memorial Park. Two decorated chairs honoring the deceased students’ memory were set on stage throughout the graduation weekend.

“That just showed a lot of class by our senior class, in being able to do that. It was very unselfish and thinking of others,” Daugherty said. “It was very touching to hear the speech of Emily Daas, and she was the person that gave the speech in describing what that money was going to be used for. It could have been used for anything different; I thought they did a great job.”

Saturday’s continuation of the 2020 Commencement also went smoothly, with groups of 15 seniors and their families patiently waiting for their turns to be called to the gym. And patient they had to be; the Saturday ceremony lasted approximately 10 hours. However, most parents expressed happiness with how things went.

“I think they put a lot of time and effort and hard work and thought into this, and I think they made the best choices they could make,” said Theresa Burns, the mother of graduate Nate Burns, following her son’s walk on Saturday.

“I think it’s very important to have the ceremony because they’ve worked so hard for, what, 12 years? For all of their hard work, accomplishments and everything that they put into their high school years, it’s very important to have some kind of official ceremony.”
Nate Burns, diploma in hand, said it was nice to be able to attend a physical graduation ceremony.

“I’ve been looking forward to it for four years now,” he said. “It’s just nice to be able to do it, even if it’s not the actual thing.”

For graduating senior Gabrielle Drummond, Saturday’s ceremony concluded a high school career full of challenges. She is now setting her sights on a new life ahead.

“I’m planning to get a job at Kids Kampus, because I want to work with the little kids,” Drummond said.

Her mother, Stacey Oakley, found it difficult to hold back tears over her daughter’s accomplishment.

“I feel like it was pretty important for her to do so,” she said. “I think they did a good job.”

For those families who could not attend, the entire event was live-streamed online. An edited, shortened compilation video of the two-day commencement ceremonies can now be viewed online at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LinxL1SobJ31d_gXyTPm-DMqnLhvK5yG/view?u....

The video includes all seniors who took part.