By Nathan Ham
Saturday’s graduation ceremony at Watauga High School might not have been anything close to normal, but that did not keep the graduates and their families from celebrating their special moment.
“Planning any graduation ceremony is a monumental undertaking that the staff at Watauga High School pull off admirably every year. With well over 300 graduates and their friends, family, and staff, the graduation ceremony is a feat of planning even when we have a secured venue and everything goes to plan. Planning for this year’s graduation was a combination of efforts from almost everyone at WHS — from planning for traffic management to organizing a live stream of the event, to our incredible community and local business support. So many people went above and beyond in an effort to make sure this year’s class was able to have the best graduation ceremony it was possible to offer them,” said Garrett Price, the Director of Communications for Watauga County Schools.
Graduates would stand on a newly constructed stage outside, put together by welding instructor George Wilson, one at a time to promote proper social distancing, and then parents and family members in their vehicles would be there to cheer for their graduate. There was also a designated area for graduates and their families to take photos together.
Wes Calbreath, the senior class counselor, said that everything ran great and everyone was in good spirits and had a lot of fun.
Prior to the event starting, school board member Jay Fenwick thought everything was working out really well.
“They planned it out so thoroughly and we’ve got good weather which is fortunate. I think the families are really enjoying it. In some sense they are getting to spend more time with their graduate up at the stage than they would have if they had been seated at the convocation center,” said Fenwick. “We are really proud of the whole high school team for making this work. It’s quite an operation. It’s all for the students getting to have their moment.”
Price said that there was a tremendous amount of support and positivity from parents and everyone that took part in the graduation ceremony.
“They all absolutely made the best of it and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. Even as the lines extended, people were so patient and really supported each other in allowing all our seniors to have their moment on the stage. The graduates themselves could not have been more gracious and supportive of each other and the drive-through event. This class has been through so much and they have demonstrated their resilience time and time again,” said Price.
Steve Combs, another member of the Watauga County Board of Education, was at the ceremony on Saturday to see his daughter Victoria graduate.
“I thought overall with the circumstances and what we had to deal with, everything went well. I had several parents comment back to me and say they thought it went well and several said they liked it better than the traditional graduation and some of the students did too,” Combs said. “I think the kids got a lot out of it and enjoyed it, and they were able to see their friends and get their pictures taken like normal. I thought it went great.”
Combs said that his daughter is planning on attending Caldwell Community College before transferring to Appalachian State to pursue a degree in social work.
Watauga County Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott commented that this was certainly a special graduation ceremony that no one would likely ever forget.
“The class of 2020 has always been a very special group of students and I knew they deserved something special for their graduation — especially after what they’ve been through the past few months. I appreciated everyone’s patience at the ceremony. Our families seemed in good spirits. Families and students were able to spend time together and interact with each other in ways they would not have in a normal graduation ceremony,” said Dr. Elliott. “There will probably never be another graduation ceremony like this again, and this class deserves that special memory. This graduation was a tremendous effort by the high school staff, the Watauga Education Foundation and the entire community. This community very much rallied around these students to give them a special celebration.”
Each graduate received a special goodie back full of different stuff, sponsored by the following groups and businesses: Appalachian State University Holmes Center, Watauga County Schools, Skyline/Skybest, FRIENDS of Watauga Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, Boone Police Department, Gear Up, Chick-Fil-A Boone, Town of Boone, Anna Banana’s, River & Earth Adventures, Log House Florist, Boone Bagelry, Boone Post Office, Boone High Country Rentals, Jaybird Aerial Photography Stick Boy Bread Co., Mellow Mushroom, WJ Office, High Country Souvenirs & Information Center, Footsloggers, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Dan’l Boone Inn, Master General Store, Watauga Education Foundation, Destination By Design, Misty Mountain, Omega Tees Screen Printing, Go Postal, Photo Specialties, Subway, and Promo Savvy 4 U, Inc.
Photos by Ken Ketchie