BROOKSTON – Despite all challenges that the COVID-19 health emergency has caused — as well as a few man-made ones — Frontier Jr./Sr. High School’s Class of 2020 students will graduate its latest class of students at 1 p.m. May 23.
But like other commencement ceremonies — some of which have still yet to be announced — it will be much different than in years past.
Frontier will conduct a virtual/in-person ceremony, but according to Principal Jeff Hettinger, it may be followed sometime in July by a “real” graduation.
But even those plans are fluid at the moment, he said.
“While the school is committed to a real graduation in July, I want to remind everyone that the pandemic may alter what we are allowed to do in July as well,” Hettinger said.
Hettinger added that he had pushed for an outdoor graduation ceremony “and was denied by the White County Health Department” — despite the easing of local restrictions amid rising numbers of reported positive COVID-19 cases (1,371% between April 22-May 22), administered tests (347% between the same time period) and increasing number of deaths attributed to the virus within White County.
On April 22, White County had 14 positive COVID-19 cases and no deaths out of 253 administered tests, according to information from the Indiana State Department of Health. As of May 22, ISDH reported White County as having 206 positive cases and eight deaths out of 1,131 administered tests.
Hettinger said he attempted to contact the Lake Shore Drive-In Theater in Monticello – the site of special outdoor church services during the COVID-19 health emergency – “but they have not returned my contact.”
“So I guess that is a dead end,” he said.
The Herald Journal attempted to reach out to the drive-in theater for comment but also did not receive a response by press time.
Because of the havoc the health emergency has caused, combined with a failure to connect with a venue known for its ability to safely conduct an outdoor event and a denial for an outdoor graduation by the health department — Hettinger said the school’s only choice was the virtual/in-person graduation ceremony for the time being.
So, here is what will be happening Saturday with Frontier’s commencement ceremony:
- Graduates and their families should be parked in the south parking lot of the high school in Chalmers.
- The prerecorded portion of graduation will be pushed out over the internet. Graduates, parents, family, and the community will be provided a link to access the prerecorded portion of graduation from whatever device they choose. Free Wi-Fi and an additional hot spot were made available a few days ago from the high school parking lot.
- The prerecorded portion of the graduation will include a welcome, prayer, principal remarks, superintendent remarks, and the valedictorian and salutatorian speeches.
- After the prerecorded portion of graduation, Frontier staff will direct graduates and families to line up. A line-up will be shared so everyone is aware of their order. Graduates and families will stay in their cars until directed to line up. Social distancing measures will be in effect and Frontier staff will be directing and monitoring locations.
- Each graduate can bring five family members into school (total of six including the graduate).
- Upon entering the auditorium, the graduate will stop at the stage stairs and the family will proceed to stand in front of the stage. After the graduate’s name is called, they will come up on the stage, walk across the stage, and receive their diploma. Upon receiving their diploma, the graduate will leave the stage, rejoin their family and leave the auditorium through the doors leading to the cafeteria, and then exit the building out the main canopy doors.
- After all the graduates have received their diplomas and are back in their cars, the local fire and police departments will lead the parade through Chalmers and Brookston. The school will publicize the route and estimate of times, and then encourage the community to step outside to cheer on the graduates. School officials said they encourage the graduates to decorate their cars as well.
- The police/fire escort will finish the parade at the elementary school in Brookston, which will end the virtual graduation.
- The entire graduation will then be edited and made into a seamless video that graduates, families and the community can access.
Hettinger thanked parents, students, staff and the communities for their input and patience as the school attempted to piece together commencement plans.
“Even though we are working under constraints that no one likes, we will strive to make the best of the situation,” he said.