New Albany High School senior Eric Ji credits Mary Cook, his 11th-grade AP chemistry teacher, with imparting to him the necessity of putting in effort to get results.

“It wasn’t only challenging, but I always managed to have a laugh in that class,” the 17-year-old valedictorian said.

So in a tradition carried out by graduating New Albany seniors throughout the years, Ji chose Cook to be part of his graduation ceremony

In normal circumstances, Cook would hand Ji his diploma during the school’s commencement ceremony. But with the procedures being adjusted because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Cook’s photo instead will appear alongside Ji’s when his name is read in a May 23 virtual graduation ceremony to be posted online and conducted as a drive-thru event.

“Senior staff select” and the annual “clap out” are two traditions New Albany High School is preserving during the pandemic as graduation events change to account for the safety of participants and attendees.

For her part, Cook said, Ji’s “senior staff select” request was an honor.

Moving education to an online platform in the New Albany-Plain Local School District has made her miss student interactions, Cook said. Receiving heartfelt messages from seniors “truly made this year’s selection process special,” she said.

“My hat’s off to all this year’s seniors for getting very creative in the asking process,” Cook said.

From videos with witty puns, to surprising staff members with homemade signs, to dropping in during online office hours with premade presentations that highlighted classroom experiences, students in the class of 2020 have been impressive with “senior staff select,” Cook said.

The tradition is important because it personalizes the graduation experience for students, said high school principal Ken Kraemer.

“We wanted our students still to be able to have that experience, just in a very unique way,” he said.

As for the “clap out,” in typical circumstances, parents and staff traditionally clap for seniors as they walk out from the high school on the last day of instruction, Kraemer said.

District leaders are asking the community to demonstrate unity in keeping up the tradition, Superintendent Michael Sawyers said.

From 4 to 4:20 p.m. May 23, the senior “clap out” will last for 20 minutes and 20 seconds in the neighborhoods in which seniors live, according to a district email detailing graduation events. Graduates and families are being asked to drive through their neighborhoods to be recognized by community members, the email said.

Kraemer said he is “proud” the district has been able to maintain these traditions in spite of the circumstances.

The district’s virtual graduation and diploma drive-thru will be May 23.

The ceremony will include recorded student speeches and photos of graduating seniors that will be posted by 9 a.m. at napls.us, according to the district.

From 12:30 to 3:30 p.m, diplomas will be awarded in a drive-thru format at New Albany Intermediate School, 177 N. High St. Graduates will get out of their vehicles, have their names called, receive their diplomas and have their photographs taken by a professional photographer, according to the district.

Sawyers said the district added the drive-thru event because of guidance from the Ohio Department of Education.

The ODE previously recommended virtual ceremonies, but recently shifted to say districts could work with local health departments to plan ceremonies that included social-distancing practices and other safety protocols, he said.

Sawyers said the district met with Franklin County Public Health officials to get approval of the drive-thru ceremony.

Because the guidance from the ODE did not permit face-to-face graduations, district leaders no longer are considering an in-person ceremony in July, Kraemer said.

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