OHS seniors cap off 2020 with graduation

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
Seniors at Okeechobee High School’s graduation were seated a carefully measured 6 feet apart.

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee High School Class of 2020 graduated on May 30 in a ceremony held at the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center.

The ceremony caps off what had been a tumultuous year for seniors, who unexpectedly found themselves working from home for the last few months of school.

The uncertainty around COVID-19 also threw into doubt the very idea of even holding a traditional, in-person graduation ceremony. School districts around the lake have taken different approaches to the difficulty of having a large event like a graduation in the midst of mandated social distancing.

The Palm Beach School District opted to hold a virtual graduation ceremony.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
OHS senior Veyon Washington poses for a picture with Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy.

Clewiston High School will have a ceremony at Cane Field on June 6 at 8 p.m. It will be a modified, drive-in event. Seniors will get out of their cars to walk across the stage. For more details and updates, see the Clewiston High School page on Facebook.

The Okeechobee County School District sent out a survey to parents and students on their wishes for graduation, and the majority responded that they preferred an in-person ceremony as opposed to a virtual one.

First, the school district announced that only the seniors graduating would be allowed in the event, with parents able to watch the ceremony on a livestream. In the days leading up to May 30, school administrators and district employees worked to measure the seating arrangements at the agri-civic center to find out how many tickets they could give out while maintaining social distance.

On May 26, the school district announced that each graduate would receive two tickets to allow parents or family members to attend.

Two days later, at the May 28 Okeechobee County Commission meeting, Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy warned that even the two-ticket solution wouldn’t be perfect.

“We’re guaranteeing two tickets to every family, but we are not guaranteeing you access inside the arena,” Mr. Kenworthy said. “We’ve made some arrangements to have people down on the floor behind the graduates — we think we can get about 135 people there. Then, unfortunately, outside in the breezeways where there are picnic tables, there will be chairs. We’re working on some sort of projection screen and/or large screen TVs to have out there. Those individuals who do end up being stuck out there will be able to walk up the handicap ramp and take a photo of their child walking across the stage before they go sit back down.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
A senior removes his facemask to pose for a cell phone picture.

Everyone entering the graduation had their temperature checked. Graduates were spaced apart in the center of the agri-civic center and wore face masks. Hand sanitizing stations were placed at the entrance and exit ramps of the stage. Sandra Pearce Photography offered free portraits for seniors coming off the stage while Black Bull Media recorded shout-outs from the kids to their families to try to capture that moment.

“This class and ceremony is definitely one for the books,” said summa cum laude grad Florinda Xandy Cea during a speech to her classmates. “And although the ending of our senior year didn’t go as planned, it’d amazing that we’re here today.”

“These past few years have gone by unexpectedly fast,” continued Miss Cea. “We were able to experience some memorable traditions that Okeechobee High has. Things such as float building and watching the bonfire that illuminated the field together as a class. Today, we can reminisce on those moments. Although cut short, we are still together. We are still the Class of 2020, although our situation is different, we are still the same.”

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