A little ingenuity, a lot of hard work and the use of modern technology combined to give Canal Winchester High School seniors a graduation to remember, even amid restrictions in place because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The virtual ceremony will be shown online at 11 a.m. May 30 at cwschools.org.
To produce the final video, the school opened its newly constructed auxiliary gymnasium -- which will be named after the class of 2020 -- May 12-14 to film students in caps and gowns receiving their diplomas. The final video includes pre-recorded speeches by principal Kirk Henderson, valedictorian Erin Booher, senior class secretary Hannah Hall and senior class president Shalea Byrd.
Assistant principal Laurie Buchieri said staging some kind of graduation ceremony was a high priority for the district.
"I think any student, parents, guardians all want some sort of honor or recognition," she said. "This is such a big thing, graduating, and we wanted to make sure that we recognized that."
Buchieri said the revised ceremony -- necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic that closed all Ohio school buildings in March -- has received positive feedback from families.
"We spent multiple weeks talking about different options, and we had multiple people from the district office and the building working together to come up with this plan," she said.
The importance of participating in a ceremony was on the minds of many graduating seniors and their families.
"I thought we were going to have some kind of virtual walk, but this is definitely better than that, to do it in person," said senior Haylie Pierce, the first person in her family to graduate from high school. "It matters to see you in front of all the teachers and show that you've succeeded."
Senior Chloe Pemberton agreed.
"I just feel like it's a ceremonial process," Pemberton said. "It's like stepping across that threshold from high school to your adult life, graduating in more than one sense."
To coordinate the video, each graduate was assigned a specific time slot between May 12 and May 14 during which they posed for official graduation photos in the CWHS auxiliary gym and were filmed receiving their diplomas.
Up to four family members were allowed to accompany each student to observe and take photos of their own. Because of social distancing rules, only one student and his or her guests were allowed in the gym at a time.
Each graduating senior was announced by Hall.
Once in the gym, graduates posed for photos against a greenscreen backdrop that will be edited to appear in the final video as Canal Winchester maroon. In addition to Buchieri and Henderson, Superintendent James Sotlar attended the recordings.
The process did take some adjusting to for many students.
Graduate Ethan Swearingen said the lack of a traditional graduation was "disappointing," but he was grateful that the district was able to put together any type of ceremony.
"The thing I was looking forward to the most was seeing my friends at graduation and celebrating with them," he said. "But I'm happy to be graduating at all. I am very grateful that we're still able to have a graduation. They really tried to make it as special as possible for us."
Pemberton said she has experienced a range of emotions.
"It's just kind of been strange," she said. "I've had moments that were up and down, and now I'm just happy to be graduating. But it is kind of weird to do it this way; at this point, I'm just rolling with the punches and taking things as they come."