Westerville is invited to "Light the Path for the Class of 2020" on Saturday, May 23, by tying white ribbons around trees and displaying candles in windows.

Greg Viebranz, executive director of communications and technology for the Westerville City School District, said the community is invited to show support for high school graduates on what would have been the date of their traditional ceremonies.

He said this is an event that people can safely participate in from home, a place of business or just about anywhere.

Residents can tie a white ribbon around a tree or support post on the porch of their house and leave it displayed through Sunday, May 24.

In addition, at 8:20 p.m. (20:20 military time) on May 23, they can display an electric candle in a window and/or stand in the front yard to hold a lighted candle from 8:20 until 8:40 p.m.

The timing of this activity coincides with the district's lighting of the stadiums at each high school in recognition of this year's graduates.

Throughout the day on May 23, Viebranz said, each school will release a commemorative virtual graduation video for graduates and their families to view. Graduates and their families also will participate in a "drive-thru" ceremony at their school to receive their diploma.

"We wanted to make sure all students were able to have some kind of graduation ceremony on the original date so we made plans for the virtual event with the diploma pickup," said John Kellogg, district superintendent.

He said the video would be broadcast on the district's YouTube channel on the morning of May 23.

Kellogg said the district has maintained its reserved date for the last weekend in June for any potential live graduation at the Celeste Center at the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair, 717 E. 17th Ave., in Columbus. Viebranz said the number of anticipated graduating seniors include: Central High School, 462; North High School, 380; and South High School, 360, for a total of 1,202.

Senior reflections

Westerville Central High School's Alexia Gilbert, a class officer, said no one expected the school year to end like this, but she appreciates everything the district has been doing to recognize seniors, especially the lighting.

"It won't replace what we'll never get to experience, but it's something that shows that they care and that we matter," she said. "It's something the whole community can participate in to show their support for our class and it's very heartwarming."

Gilbert said she actually likes the drive-thru graduation idea.

"The anticipation you feel before making it to the front of the line, hearing your name being called out, everyone clapping and cheering you on. The way they did it makes it feel like graduation, which is nice," she said.

Gilbert said she and her classmates are disappointed they won't have traditions like the Cedar Point trip, the pancake breakfast or senior night of reflection but, at the end of the day, they didn't let the COVID-19 coronavirus stop them from making the most of their senior year.

"We do bingo games and remember the good old days," she said. "This may not be the ideal senior year, but it's still senior year and we're making the most of it."

Gilbert said the class is working with what it has.

"We found a way to be able to celebrate our graduation and night of reflection and evening of excellence," she said.

Gilbert said she feels blessed to be part of such a hard-working class.

Westerville North High School's Ameena Freeman, who also is a class officer, said she and her classmates had looked forward to traditions like senior tag and prom.

She said friends were recently reflecting about spending 13 years in the district and they didn't want to end their school years this way.

Freeman said it brought tears to her eyes.

"Now we're sad," she said. "We know we can't just be mad, but move on. We all understand there are losses. We're finding ways to deal with it."

Freeman said her class includes many academic and athletic leaders.

"So many people signed to play at a collegiate level, no matter what division," she said. "We all have the tendencies of leaders. We all have a really good mindset. No matter what, we always had positive outlooks on everything."

Freeman said she liked the district's lighting the stadiums to recognize the seniors as well as the "Light the Path."

"They don't have to, but they're doing it anyway," she said. "It's nice to know they care about us."

Westerville South High School's Karina Deere, senior class president, said the one thing that has been the hardest is the probable loss of the traditional graduation ceremony. She said she thinks it's most difficult for her parents.

"I've been in the Westerville schools my whole life," Deere said.

She said she used to spend time at South from 7 a.m. to evening, because she has been especially active in theater.

"Our class as a whole -- everyone is very passionate about what they do," Deere said. "Every student I've talked to is pushing themselves and wanting to do outstanding things."

She said they accomplished a lot in sports and academics.

"Our class is really connected in a weird way," Deere said. "I feel like being a really big class, everyone for the most part knows who each other is."

She said lighting up the high school stadiums last month and this month has been really nice.

"People went to the parking lot," she said. "It was nice to see some people again. We pushed back graduation, and I hope we can still do something. This far along, I think I've come to terms with it."

When looking back on at her time in the Westerville schools, Deere said, she will remember the football games and the variety of experiences and opportunities she received.