Gahanna Lincoln High School seniors will be honored in a virtual graduation ceremony Saturday, May 23, and when they take a ceremonial walk at the football stadium May 26 to 29.

After working with students and Franklin County Public Health, principal Jessica Williams said the alternative plans to a traditional ceremony will make for a special moment for seniors and their families.

"We know this is not the ideal way to conclude the school year for our seniors," Williams said. "They have already had to lose so many great memories during the past few months and unfortunately, a traditional graduation is one of those memories this class will not have.

"We need to make this celebration as special for them as we can, considering the restraints."

Judy Hengstebeck, communications coordinator for Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools, said 591 seniors are expected to graduate, including 89 valedictorians with a 4.0 grade-point average or above, and 134 seniors will receive honors diplomas.

Fifteen students have reported they will enter the military after graduation, Hengstebeck said.

Jaiden Davis, who was appointed by Williams to the graduation 2020 student-advisory council, said he feels like the district has done a good job in making special memories for the seniors.

In working with the advisory council, he said, students felt like there should still be some type of physical interaction.

"We know close to 600 students can't be in the same place," he said. "We wanted to keep in mind the schedule of people going to military or college, so we wanted to be considerate of everyone. We decided to have it at the end of May, so everyone could experience it."

Davis said it has been hard for the senior class because students didn't get the typical end to their year that most get to experience but Williams has done a good job ensuring the safety of the senior class.

"There are so many people in the class of 2020 that are so visionary, great people," he said. "I'm certain they will positively impact the world once they go to college and get their degrees. If anything, this coronavirus has given us more of a drive than what we had before. I really feel like even though we didn't have the typical ending to the senior year, we're still one of the most special classes in terms of people who want to positively change the world by setting goals."

Grace Moricca, senior student council president, said her class is diversified.

"We have people in so many different things to create a common good," she said. "We're very diverse with people from all cultures and backgrounds to make the school a better place."

Moricca said she thinks the seniors started out upset that they couldn't end the year with traditions like prom and senior-skip day.

"I think our community and school did a good job making the seniors feel special with signs in the students' yards and student-athlete signs around Creekside," she said.

She said a local photographer from Studio 187 Photography, 106 Short St. in Gahanna, took photos of senior athletes from spring sports and showcased them on banners at Creekside along Granville and Mill streets.

Moricca said the district is putting together the best graduation possible under the circumstances.

"I think our class realizes there isn't anything we can do but embrace it," she said. "It's a time to be celebrated even though it isn't normal. We're making the best of it."

Traditionally, she said, the seniors aren't allowed to decorate their graduation caps, but an exception is being made this year.

The virtual graduation will be streamed at 2 p.m. May 23 with a prerecorded commencement program that will be published on YouTube and links will be sent out, Williams said.

The program will include keynote speakers, class speakers and senior recognitions.

The ceremonial walk invites seniors, along with two guests, to the high school football stadium for a ceremony. Seniors will be given arranged times, decided alphabetically, to participate.

Seniors will walk in their caps and gowns up to the stage to have their name read, their diploma presented and their picture taken by a professional photographer, Williams said.

The district will livestream the walk on its Facebook page.

Superintendent Steve Barrett said the district is committed to making the graduation experience as memorable as possible.

He also announced via a May 6 letter that the district would meet the required amount of attendance hours May 8 and there would be no new instruction for students after May 15.

Teachers were scheduled to use May 18-20 to check in with students as needed, and students would have an opportunity to complete any necessary assignments for the end of the year.

The final day of the 2019-20 school year for students was scheduled for May 20.

On Friday, May 22, all Gahanna school buildings are scheduled to conduct no-contact, drive-thru events for families to return district materials such as textbooks, computers, library books and other learning materials students took home.

As district materials are collected, building staff will place student belongings/materials, such as items from lockers, that have been packed up into trunks and backs of vehicles, Barrett said.

To maintain safety, no students or families will be permitted in the buildings, he said.

Barrett said pandemic-related orders have resulted in a cancellation of nearly all in-person activities.

"This is a difficult outcome for many Gahanna-Jefferson students who were preparing for significant transitions -- from our fifth-graders headed to middle school, our eighth-graders headed to high school and most certainly our high school seniors," he said. "Know that we will take all the necessary steps to support these students as they transition to new buildings and new stages of their education."