Graduation ceremony occurs despite raging pandemic


Owen Musser

After a nearly two-month delay, Lawrence High seniors graduated on Saturday night. Participants were told to wear masks and stay distant as COVID-19 cases have been rising rapidly in Douglas County and the state overall. The stands remained clear. Instead graduates and their guests walked through the event at tiered times.

By Tony Racy, Co-Online Editor in Chief

LHS’s class of 2020 had their graduation ceremony on Saturday despite the current circumstances of a pandemic.

The 348 students and their families entered the graduation venue in a staggered manner, as a precaution to coronavirus infection. 

This year was especially tough on the seniors, whose last normal day at LHS ended at spring break. 

“You made it in spite of what many would consider the greatest challenge of a year,” superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis said in his speech. ““You are prepared to conquer any obstacle that stands in the way of your goals and dreams.”

School board president Melissa Johnson then spoke to the graduates about the many challenges that students have faced outside of just the pandemic.

 “This celebration isn’t just for the challenges of the senior year. It’s about everything that has led to this point,” Johnson said. “Whether you had to repeat a grade or graduate on time, despite those challenges, you made it.”

Co-valedictorians Lana Chieu and Angela Young also spoke on behalf of the class.

 “At this moment, it’s still surreal that we are all here right now, because a few days ago it seemed impossible,” Chieu said. “The world will grow smaller and smaller as we grow into bigger people.”

“We stand here looking into the future, and none of us have the answers,” Young said. “Scary isn’t necessarily bad, it’s different and a change, but starting with setbacks doesn’t mean you can’t achieve success.”

The speeches were followed by the graduates receiving their diplomas with social studies teacher and assistant football coach Jeffrey Lyster announcing names.

“I felt like I had finally gotten the closure that I wanted after waiting for so long for graduation to happen,” graduate Allie Grammer said. “It felt really good to finally get to walk on the field even though it wasn’t traditional.”

The ceremony ended with the announcement of special awards to students and staff, most notably citizen of the year to graduate Sami Turner and teacher of the year to math teacher Greg Farley.

Many students were unable to experience the ceremony, as graduates chose to stay home to avoid the risk the pandemic imposed. 

“I didn’t attend graduation because I felt that the changes to the ceremony made it not worth the risk of getting sick,” graduate Jasper Mumford said.

The event was met with further controversy when the names of students who did not attend weren’t called. 

“I am very upset that names were not called for those who did not attend. There was no good reason for why they couldn’t do that,” graduate William Sheeley said, who didn’t attend to not put at-risk family members in danger. “I watched the entire graduation expecting all names to be called and I feel that my choice of not risking the health of my loved ones was disrespected by the ceremony.”

“I think the district should have at least called out the names for the people that weren’t there,” Mumford said. “By not calling out our names, it felt like our accomplishments were being diminished simply for making the safe decision to not attend.”

Having an in-person graduation ceremony was concerning for some due to the rise of coronavirus cases in Douglas County. Cases in the state continue to climb.

“I personally do not think an in person graduation ceremony was a good idea,” Sheeley said. “I was very worried that the precautions taken would not be 100 percent safe, and after watching the event, I feel that assumption was true.” 

The ceremony was briefly paused because groups of people began congesting on the football field where diplomas were being handed out.

“Given the pandemic and everything going on, I understand why people didn’t want to have graduation but I was also grateful as a senior to have it,” Grammar said. “I’ve been working for the past 12 years to get to that point so yes, I think it was OK to have it.”

Students who did not attend graduation can still pick up their diplomas at the LHS Summer School Office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Appointments to pick up diplomas can be scheduled by calling (785) 832-5050.