2020 has been a strange year -- evidenced by the fact that Big Walnut High School's traditional graduation ceremony July 25 stood out as rare.

Most high schools in central Ohio, including Delaware Hayes High School and the four in Olentangy Schools, held drive-thru or virtual ceremonies this year amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but Big Walnut officials preferred the traditional option -- albeit a few months later than scheduled and with some major safety modifications.

Nearly 200 members of the high school's class of 2020 received their diplomas in commencement exercises July 25 at the high school football stadium.

The graduates, wearing caps and gowns, sat on chairs spread across most of the football field to provide the 6-foot social distancing required.

"I'm very proud of these kids and their accomplishments," said Superintendent Angie Hamberg. "This is a culmination of 13 years these kids spent at Big Walnut, crossing over from childhood to adulthood. We wanted to make it safe and memorable."

The ceremony, originally slated May 16, was delayed so it could meet the safety requirements of the pandemic.

"The wait was certainly worth it," Hamberg said. "A lot of kids and families reached out and thanked us ... very appreciative we took the time to celebrate their graduates."

The class of 2020 has 250 graduates; 198 attended commencement, she said.

Some of those who didn't attend have left Ohio to enter the military, and others planned instead to attend a drive-thru graduation event July 26, when graduates arrived at the school with their families in vehicles to pick up their diplomas.

Graduates who eschewed both options may pick up their diplomas at the high school's main office during school hours starting Monday, Aug. 3.

During the ceremony, graduates and their families followed all the safety precautions perfectly, Hamberg said.

"It was a great team effort. We were very confident the community would maintain social distancing, and they did," she said. "They absolutely wanted to be there."

At a graduation rehearsal July 24, the graduates received colored tickets telling them when to arrive at the stadium.

That created a staggered arrival of families and prevented congestion, Hamberg said.

Graduates wore masks as they entered the stadium and could remove them when seated.

Each graduate could bring four family members, she said. They arrived together, and the families sat together in marked-off spaces away from other families in both the home and visitor bleachers.

District administrators and principals helped the families to their spots in the bleachers, Hamberg said.

She said she and Assistant Superintendent Mark Cooper stood 6 feet apart on one side of a table, wearing masks and gloves, while the graduates went forward and received their diplomas handed across the table.

The commencement speakers were graduates Macy Roberto and Jake Fuchs, Hamberg said. They were selected in a process that began with writing a speech for an English assignment and delivering the speech to a school committee.

As a concession to the pandemic, the commencement processional and recessional were omitted, Hamberg said, and portable toilets were brought in because the school building was closed.

Because of the safety precautions, the ceremony took a lot more time to plan than previous graduations, she said.

Principal Andy Jados and his team "spent hours and hours working on every single detail," Hamberg said.

"I am so proud of our students, parents and community members who did an outstanding job of following all of our safety procedures we put in place," Jados said.

"Christina McDonough, our senior class adviser, and her team have worked on this ceremony since April," he said. "We were so happy we were able to give this experience to our graduates."

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