By Tim Gardner
Avery County High School will not hold traditional graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 because of the state’s social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, ceremonies will be held in a unique way and off campus for the first time in the school’s 51-year history.
Avery High’s graduation process this year will be to hold drive-thru graduation ceremonies. They will be held on the morning of Friday, May 29th with a rain date for Saturday morning, May 30th at picturesque MacRae Meadows near Grandfather Mountain. The exact starting time of graduation ceremonies will soon be announced.
“We will have a most creative way in holding ceremonies to honor the hard work and the transition of our Avery High graduating seniors to the next stage of their lives with the drive-thru,” said Dr. Dan Brigman, superintendent of Avery County Schools.
The families of the 112 graduating seniors will have the opportunity to view the ceremonies from their vehicles and maybe also listen to it on the radio.
Graduates and families will be placed in groups that are staged in the Newland town square before driving up to the meadows. The ceremonies will be divided into four different graduations with approximately 28 students each, and seniors will be allowed to bring two vehicle loads of families and guests to watch the event.
A professional photographer and videographer will be on hand to capture and compile this special event for the graduates, their families and guests.
Public announcement about the changes to the high school’s annual graduation ceremonies happened after Career and Technical Education Director Ellis Ayers presented the idea to the Avery County Board of Education April 20.
Avery County school officials have been planning and preparing for changes to the event for the past several weeks because of the social distancing mandates ordered by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. On April 24, Governor Cooper announced that public schools will remain closed and continue with distance learning until the end of the semester.
According to Dr. Brigman, Avery School System officials considered several options before deciding to have graduation ceremonies at MacRae Meadows. They received approval from Jesse Pope, Executive Director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation to use MacRae Meadows, as well as from the high school’s planning committee.
School officials are still finalizing specifics of the graduation plans, Dr. Brigman added. He said those also would be announced in the next few days.
“We’re still looking at recognizing all of those traditional speeches that are made such as those from the valedictorian, salutatorian, and making sure all other traditional graduation happenings are in line for our 2020 ceremonies. There are still a lot of possibilities that are being considered in making this graduation most special,” Dr. Brigman shared.
He added: “Additional information will be available soon and we must remain flexible as we plan this event due to weather and additional guidelines by the state and federal governments.”