Similar to graduating classes throughout the nation, Whetstone High School's class of 2020 did not have an opportunity to experience a traditional ceremony because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

So about a dozen parents decided to do something about it.

Columbus City Schools plans to hold virtual graduation ceremonies during the week of June 22. Whetstone's is set for 8 p.m. June 26.

But an alternative graduation ceremony for Whetstone seniors, organized separately from the district, was held June 5 at the shelter house in the Columbus Park of Roses in Whetstone Park, 3923 N. High St in Columbus' Clintonville neighborhood.

About 100 students and their families attended the park ceremony, adhering to social-distancing guidelines.

Several classmates and state Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) gave speeches, and students were called to the stage to receive their "diplomas."

"We're trying to give the class of 2020 a chance to walk for their graduation," Whetstone PTA president Susan Gaunce said. Her son, Mitchell Gaunce, is the class president.

"It was very important we do something for them," said parent Rita Atlagovich, mother of graduating senior John Kincaid. "That motivated this whole process. We wanted them to have something like a traditional graduation."

Leland delivered the commencement address. He spoke about how students could celebrate accomplish-ments at this time and the importance of civic engagement in their futures, especially in light of the major issues facing the country and the world right now.

"Obviously, this is a difficult time, but these are the leaders of our future," he said. "This is their time.

"So while we're here to celebrate their graduation and all that goes along with that, we also have to recognize that this is their time to step up and be a part of their society and be a part of the solution to a whole raft of problems that you'd have to be blind not to see."

Students who attended the Park of Roses ceremony expressed gratitude for it and for the opportunity to celebrate their graduation with something as close to a traditional ceremony as possible.

"I think it's very thoughtful the parents are giving us seniors a chance to live out a graduation," said Verich Luu, who is one of the 2020 class valedictorians and plans to study computer science and software engineering at Ohio State University. "Even though it's just a little different, I think there's still a little bit of magic in there," Leland said.

"I think it's a great way to end our senior year here at Whetstone," Andy Phu said. He said he plans to pursue a double major in business administration and management and political science in college.

"I know this wasn't what we expected, but at least we're getting somewhat of a (traditional) graduation."

Catie Flanigan, who plans to study health science at the University of Cincinnati, said whereas the ceremony wasn't what previous graduating classes were able to experience, she's thankful for the chance to participate in something that tried to replicate that experience as much as possible.

"I think it's really nice just to be able to have some sort of celebration," Flanigan said. "Obviously, we can't get what former classes have had, but it's still a way to remember."

C.J. Brown, who plans to attend Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, West Virginia, to study computer science and play soccer, said the ceremony was "heartwarming."

"I think it was very appreciative for the 2020 class considering we couldn't have a traditional graduation at our school," he said. "I think they'll appreciate this for the ones that did come, I really do."

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve