Change of Plans: Back To Reality
Tecumseh Adds Limited In-Person Diploma Ceremony at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Preceded By Virtual Graduation Ceremony at 4:30 p.m.
May 14, 2020
Tecumseh school officials changed their minds about this year's graduation event set for May 19, within about 48 hours. What was set to be a virtual graduation only, as of Monday evening, was changed by Wednesday to add a drive-through type of commencement ceremony, complete with a stage, diplomas, caps and gowns, family and a professional photographer.
Members of the Class of 2020 will now be allowed to drive to the high school campus Tuesday evening and begin lining up at 6 p.m. for a more traditional diploma ceremony. In groups of three, each senior will be directed as to when they can exit their vehicles, along with any family members riding with them in the same car. Family members will be allowed to take photos and video their senior as they walk across the stage to accept their high school diploma, without handshakes, said Assistant Superintendent Robert Kinsey Thursday.
Previously, during Monday's meeting of the Tecumseh Board of Education, Superintendent Tom Wilsie said graduation has been the topic of many discussions over the past several weeks.
In fact, it was on April 30 when Tecumseh High School Principal Randy Dilbeck officially announced details of a virtual event on the district's website.
"The decision to hold a virtual graduation was made amid the continuing spread of (COVID-19) and with the health and safety of students, parents, elderly relatives, and staff in mind," the announcement stated.
In his update to the board Monday, Wilsie said a videographer had been hired to film and edit the virtual ceremony, which had been in production for about three weeks.
"Doing a virtual graduation doesn't mean there can't be other opportunities out there in the future," the superintendent said. "We have tentatively set up a couple of different dates in the summer at FireLake just in case.
"We don't know what the future holds but we want to maintain a time in there that maybe we are able to do a traditional graduation for our students."
No commitments had been made beyond the virtual event, Wilsie added Monday, as school officials felt a virtual ceremony was the most appropriate at that time.
At the end of Monday's meeting, school board member Terry O'Rorke spoke in support of the decision.
He said seniors start preparing to move on with their lives as the year comes to a close - such as going to college or joining the military.
"I think prolonging (graduation) keeps something over their head," he said.
About 48 hours later, a new plan was announced on the school district's website.
A letter signed by the superintendent and high school principal states, "Following the 'Virtual Graduation Ceremony' we will be presenting diplomas to our seniors in a special 'Drive Through Graduation Ceremony' on the Tecumseh High School campus."
When asked why the sudden change to add an in-person diploma ceremony, the assistant superintendent said as the week progressed, administrators starting hearing more comments from the high school principal, and some students themselves, that some graduates would not be available to attend postponed event and would miss out.
"There's not a single administrator or teacher in our district that doesn't want our student to have as great a graduation as possible," he said adding that under the current social distancing guidelines, a traditional graduation is just not possible at this time.
"So Mr. Wilsie had a great idea to try and create more of an event where we can still use the video, but then also rent a stage and have seniors who are interested come in their cap and gown and walk across the stage to get their diploma," Kinsey said.
"So we changed gears ...and decided to move up the plan."
School Board President Shawn Fleming, the superintendent and the high school principal are planning to be on stage to great each senior, Kinsey said, as social protocol allows.
The limited, drive-through ceremony will begin with the first diploma being given at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19.
"In order to provide a safe environment for our graduates and families, we will be following the guidelines of the Oklahoma State Department of Health as well as the Oklahoma State Department of Education in relation to hosting the event," Wednesday's announcement read.
Kinsey said spectators will be able to step out of the car to record videos and take photos as their graduate personally accepts their high school diploma.
"And we'll stay there as long as it takes to make sure everyone who wants to has a chance to get through," he added.
"We do ask that they be in line (no later than) 8 p.m."
The line will begin at 6th Street, with a single-file line being formed at the Early Childhood Center. Cars will proceed along a road to the north football field parking lot and onto the main campus. School staff and others will help direct vehicles, along with Tecumseh police officers.
As of Thursday, Kinsey said, "The current plan is to set up on the south side of the main high school building, near the main office entrance."
Tom Flora Photography will photograph the seniors receiving their diplomas, just as the studio has done for decades.
In addition, Kinsey said Vyve Broadband has a community channel and the school is working with the company to live-stream the drive-through diploma ceremony.
The initial announcement of the added in-person portion received a great response, Kinsey said, however, he acknowledged some would still prefer a more traditional graduation on Tuesday.
"I'm sure there are going to be people who it's not what they want because it's not traditional," he said. "And again, it's not what I want either; but we feel like, given the guidelines we have, this is going to be special and memorable."
The end of Wednesday's announcement letter from Wilsie and Dilbeck echoed Kinsey's sentiments.
"It is our hope that even under these difficult times, our graduating Class of 2020 can experience the thrill of hearing their name called and walking across the stage to receive their diploma. Seniors, we are proud of your accomplishments and hope this ceremony helps you reach this culmination of your Tecumseh High School career."
Tom Wilsie, Superintendent
Randy Dilbeck, High School Principal
For full details and guidelines regarding the drive-through ceremony, visit http://www.tecumseh.k12.ok.us/o/ths.
A link to the virtual graduation video will be posted on the same website, where Kinsey said it will remain for at least a couple of weeks.