With every graduation photo, there is a moment that tends to be the most dramatic.

The pomp and circumstance is finished and the excited students who have been sitting through an endless amount of names and speakers are primed and ready to spring. The principal, head of class, superintendent, dean, or whoever is leading the show takes a pause, smiles big, and enunciates “Congratulations Class of 2020!”

Then the students, exulting at the freedom these words bring, take off their mortarboards and tend to toss them in the air anywhere from a few inches to as high as they can manage. *Snap* It’s a great experience as well as an incredibly photogenic moment.

The Class of 2020 doesn’t get that this year – at least not in the same sense. Sure, there have been plenty of televised graduation ceremonies with various celebrities offering pearls of wisdom. But, at least to me, there is nothing like the ceremony with the people who actually went through the experience with you every day, year after year.

Still, schools are doing what they can to make it special. Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Catholic School already held two weekends of graduation activities, and Powhatan High School hopes to hold an in-person graduation on July 25, but that is so far away we have no idea what it will look like.

So, just as they have been doing for months, the schools are adapting to try to make this horrible situation we are in just a little bit better for our students.

A week after it held a virtual graduation on June 6, Blessed Sacrament spent all day on June 13 having its 21 seniors come accept their diplomas in person during individual ceremonies. I sat through two of the ceremonies, and the degree of personalization this brought to the graduation experience was incredible. For such a small school whose staff and students often refer to each other as an extended family, this personal touch was important.

Powhatan High School also wanted to have a special day sooner rather than later for its seniors. Since a traditional graduation day was out, students and a few of their family members were invited to the school on June 6 for a special PHS Senior Day.

Taking place mostly in their vehicles, the seniors went through a special drive-through celebration. The participation ranged from students who came alone either in cap and gown or street clothes to students accompanied by a few close family members in decorated vehicles. There were even a few party buses.

The cars meandered a path that started at Flat Rock Elementary School and traversed a large part of the high school. Along the way, teachers, administrators, and staff were set up in tents where students were met with cheering, encouragement, and the occasional gift. They received gift cards, keychains, and other goodies. But as nice as I am sure those treats were, it seemed like the biggest impact on the students was the personal touch the high school put on this special day.

At the very end, there was an opportunity for the students to get out of their vehicles and take photos in front of the high school and a Powhatan Indians backdrop. There also were a few other great photo opportunities, such as a fire engine and the logo and year on one of the fields.

Over and above the excitement of honoring all high school seniors who participated in this special way, as I walked between the stations, I saw several heartfelt conversations between students and staff members who have spent years cultivating relationships. As I watched, I couldn’t help thinking about some of the special teachers in my life whose amazing impact still makes me smile today.

I saw elementary school staff recognizing students they had taught when they were no higher than their waists. I saw people who have been these students’ cheerleaders, drill sergeants, and listening ears ecstatic to see their students again after a long absence. I saw a few hugs that may not have been social distancing-approved but were powerful in the way they clung together with strong emotion.

We celebrate our Class of 2020 students because of the milestones they have achieved as well as recognizing those college students in the class who are missing their big graduation moment, too.

We all know that life is and will continue to be different now. But I applaud our Powhatan schools for sending the message that different doesn’t have to be less meaningful.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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