South-Western City Schools: Graduations slated June 5 at Grove City, Central Crossing

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions will allow senior classmates at each South-Western City School District high school to graduate together at a ceremony.

Some restrictions and adjustments are still in place, but it's heartening that seniors will be together, Grove City High School principal Bryan O'Shea said.

South-Western City School District administrative building

Graduations will be held in the stadiums at Central Crossing and Grove City high schools June 5, with a June 6 rain date, said Sandy Nekoloff, the district's executive director of communications. 

"These two stadiums have the largest spectator capacity of the high school stadiums," she said.

Students from Grove City (9 a.m.) and Westland High School (1 p.m.) will graduate in the Grove City stadium.

Students from Central Crossing (9 a.m.) and Franklin Heights High School (1 p.m.) will graduate in the Central Crossing stadium.

"We aren't able to have our graduation ceremonies at the Celeste Center as usual because they are holding vaccinations there," O'Shea said. "But our students are going to be able to have their ceremony at their school, so we've been able to turn a negative into a positive, despite the pandemic."

Students at each high school will receive eight tickets for spectators to attend the ceremony in person.

All ceremonies also will be livestreamed on each high school's YouTube channel.

"That's something we've never been able to do at the Celeste Center," O'Shea said. "It means a family member who isn't able to attend the ceremony can still watch it live, whether they live in Grove City or anywhere."

South-Western held a drive-thru ceremony at each high school last May for the class of 2020. Students could be accompanied by up to four people in their car and were able to walk across a raised platform and receive their diploma covers.

Each high school compiled video of each student's moment on stage into a virtual ceremony, which included music and speakers just like a traditional commencement.

The virtual ceremonies were uploaded to each high school's YouTube channel and were available for viewing May 30, 2020, the date the graduation events originally were scheduled to be held at the Celeste Center.

Masks will be required for all guests and graduates at the June 5 ceremonies, Nekoloff said. Graduates may remove their masks for photos as they walk across the stage.

Grove City

Grove City's senior class of 422 students had received, as of May 1, a total of $8.4 million in scholarship offers, O'Shea said.

"The class of '21 has gone through essentially a year and a half of school dealing with the pandemic," he said. "They have shown such perseverance to work through all they have faced and yet still achieve so much."

The senior class is also noteworthy for the amount of service it has provided to the school and community, O'Shea said.

"It's a class that gives back," he said.

That community spirit was not slowed down by the pandemic, senior class president Lizzie Saur said.

One example is the National Honor Society, she said.

Despite the pandemic and changing modes of learning, the NHS members attended all meetings and were able to lead service projects that went above and beyond the traditional efforts conducted by the organization, Saur said.

"If I picked one word to describe our class, it would be strong," she said. 

The class has had to overcome a lot during its senior year, but Saur said she thinks that makes her and her classmates better prepared for the challenges they'll face in the future.

Saur, who will attend Youngstown State University in the fall and will begin with a general STEM major, will be one of two student speakers at the Grove City ceremony. Valedictorian Ysabel Gomez also will speak. The class salutatorian is Zachary Baugess.

Central Crossing

Central Crossing is expected to give diplomas to 405 seniors, principal Steve Fairs said.

The senior class has earned more than $5 million in scholarship offers, he said.

"The two words I would use to describe this year's senior class – and the scholarship amount speaks to it – are determination and resilience," Fairs said. "They certainly had just about everything thrown at them over the last year. 

"I think back to the fall, when they were learning on Thursday what football team we'd be playing on Friday night because teams were in quarantine, and yet the band was there, the cheerleaders were there and students and parents were there," he said.

Students and their families also showed resilience as they maneuvered "through the different academic realities we went through," Fairs said.

Whether they will be going to college, entering the military or starting a job, "every block of students in our class has been successful," student body president Rebekah Reynolds said.

She would use the word "strong" to describe her senior class, Reynolds said.

"The pandemic is interesting to reflect on," but it doesn't entirely define the class of 2021, she said.

"I think we're a class of perseverance rather than a class of the pandemic," said Reynolds, who will study nursing at Ohio State University in the fall.

It's important for her class to have the opportunity to attend graduation together as a class, she said.

"It's important not just to see yourself graduate but to see the success your friends and classmates have had," Reynolds said. "We've been through so much together."

Central Crossing will have three student speakers at its graduation, Fairs said.

Along with the valedictorian and salutatorian, senior class president Hannah Miller will speak.

The valedictorian and salutatorian honors "are coming down to the wire," and final test results will determine who those students are, Fairs said.

Westland

With 434 seniors, the class of 2021 is one of the largest Westland has ever had, principal James Miller said.

The total amount of scholarship offers still is being compiled, he said, but other figures demonstrate how much this year's senior class has achieved.

"In 2017, we had roughly 30% of the students planning to attend a two-year or four-year college," Miller said. "This year we have approximately 55% who are planning to go to college."

About 150 seniors took College Credit Plus courses and those students amassed about 1,727 earned college credits, he said.

Six Westland seniors already have earned an associate's degree before leaving high school, Miller said.

"Our senior class is a hard-working group of students," he said. "They've been able to overcome any challenge or obstacle that's been put before them."

Westland's graduation ceremony will include remarks from the class valedictorian and salutatorian, whose identity won't be revealed to seniors until the event, Miller said.

Senior class president Ugonna Obiagwu also will speak.

"It feels really fantastic to have reached this point," Obiagwu said. "I think we all feel happy that we've been able to make sure we can have a normal graduation ceremony."

Although it's a little disappointing the ceremony can't be held at Westland, holding the event at Grove City will allow more family and friends to attend, he said.

Without them, the experience wouldn't be as meaningful, Obiagwu said.

Westland's senior class "is crazy, in the best way," he said. 

It's a fun-loving, exuberant group, Obiagwu said, yet the senior class has been able to keep its eye on the ball academically while living through the pandemic.

He will study computer science at Ohio State.

Franklin Heights

Seniors at all four high schools have had to adjust and be flexible as the academic model switched back and forth during the pandemic year, Franklin Heights High School guidance counselor Katie Binkley said. 

Franklin Heights' 265 seniors collectively have earned more than $3 million in scholarships, with several students earning full rides to Capital University and Ohio State, she said. The class of 2021 also earned more than 500 college credits through the College Credit Plus programs at Columbus State Community College and Ohio State.

The top five students in the class are Nicole Candelo, Eliana Hunkpati, Collin Maynard, Janelis Perez and Tatiana Sullivan.

Both Candelo and Hunkpati earned an associate's degree from Columbus State, Binkley said. 

"The class of 2021 had to give up pep rallies, the annual dodgeball and Quest game tournaments and their favorite event, the senior-staff basketball game, but the school was able to hold senior night for each athletic season, prom, All Academic Awards, Senior Awards, band and choir concerts and fall and spring theater productions," she said.

Binkley used a common word to characterize the class: perseverance.

"They have persevered through so many challenges this year," she said. "They make things happen."

The staff are thrilled that a true graduation ceremony can be held this year, Binkley said.

"I felt so bad for last year's seniors, that they weren't able to have a real ceremony that put an exclamation point on their high school achievements," she said. "It's an important milestone, and you want to recognize it as fully as possible."

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