By Jill Penley
They planned to file into Ray Shoun gymnasium in procession on May 16 clad in maroon cap and gown to the cheers of family and friends as the band played “Pomp and Circumstance.” Those plans, along with several other beloved traditions, were suddenly interrupted in the wake of the COVID-19 public health crisis, the accompanying quarantine rules, and statewide school closures, which caused their senior year to come to a screeching halt.
As a result of government guidelines and public health concerns, the graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 had to be a unique one, and the decision was made to host a “drive-in” graduation at Chamber Park to adhere to social distancing guidelines and keep everyone safe. Vehicles were spread out across the park facing the stage constructed specifically for the event with parents receiving audio via FM radio signal.
“Seniors, if the past several months have taught us anything, it is that the way we live our daily lives can be changed in a moment,” said Leon Henley, Johnson County High School Principal. “I understand when you started the school year in August, you would have never imagined your senior year would have ended the way it has. When we left school in March, we never thought that would be our last day together on the hill. I’m sorry for what this pandemic has taken from you, and the activities that you had looked forward to for so long were not what you had imagined.”
Henley encouraged the class to remember the good times on the hill and several professions considered “essential” during these trying times and reminded the graduates JCHS alumni are doing these jobs every day.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that these beautiful mountains you came from, the school you attended, or the community you grew up in, could keep you from fulfilling your goals because if you’re willing to dream big enough, you’re willing to work hard enough and you’re willing to persevere long enough you can go anywhere or achieve anything you desire.”
JCHS Class of 2020 Valedictorian Sarah Shaw addressed the class. “Although it is disappointing our graduation is held outside with our families in their vehicles,” she said in her remarks, “this day will go down in Johnson County history as one of the most unique graduation ceremonies ever.”
Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Director of Schools, also addressed the class. “Seniors, you have overcome many obstacles, especially these past nine weeks,” she said. “But always remember that the future is yours. You are about to start a new and exciting adventure. Make the most out of life. Live your dreams; follow your passion; stay true to yourself. Each of you can be and do anything you want – you just have to believe.”
Senior student council member, Taylor Parsons, led the 154-member class in the traditional turning of the tassels. COVID-19 interrupted their senior year and took away many of the opportunities that typically go along with that special time, but the Class of 2020, displayed grace and perseverance, and despite being born during the 9/11 era and facing a worldwide pandemic, are ready to face the world as official graduates of Johnson County High School.
See more information and photos on graduation in the print version of The Tomahawk.