In the Loop Editor
It’s a strange world we live in today. Never did we imagine that our rural Mississippi lifestyle would be turned upside down by a viral pandemic originating in China.
Business and school closures, social distancing, toilet paper and food shortages - sounds like a Hollywood screenplay, right? Everyone’s been affected, some more than others, but we’ve all felt the sting of COVID-19.
One of the groups most impacted by our current situation is the Class of 2020. After 11.5 years of education, this group of young men and women left for spring break in March with the expectation that they would return to a normal high school a week later. Boom! Enter “Safe at Home” guidelines, and their senior year expectations were history.
Wait? What? No prom? No graduation? No formal goodbyes to the classmates and teachers they’d known for the past several years? It’s been surreal to say the least. We’ve all made adjustments and come to grips with a new “normal” - for now. It’s been tough, but Mississippi has adapted and adopted new ways of doing things - country folks can survive, right?
One of the best adaptations I’ve experienced so far was the graduation of the Grenada High School Class of 2020. “Normal” GHS graduation consists of hundreds of Grenada parents, relatives, and friends jam-packed into the GHS Charger stadium in sweltering heat for several hours as graduates give speeches and solemnly parade across the field to accept their diplomas.
Social distancing made this tradition impossible - you just can’t spread that many people out, six feet apart, in that small space. So a new plan emerged - individual, drive-through graduations in parade format.
What kind of graduation is that, you might ask? How can that even work? Let me tell you, it worked beautifully (although a little wet in places)!
After an immense amount of strategic planning, GHS graduates were scheduled in groups of 25, two cars per student allowed. During the two day event, cars lined up, drove around the track to the designated spot, and each graduate had their moment in the sun (or sometimes rain).
As one of the official photographers for the occasion, I had the privilege of watching each senior receive his or her diploma. I was impressed with the innovative approaches to the event. Some families arrived in large vans to accomodate more family members, other vehicles sported outstanding decorations that I’m sure some of you have seen on social media. Instead of the serious nature of a “normal” graduation, the mood was laid back and fun. Students posed for several individual photos during their time to shine and enjoyed some light-hearted fun on the field with school officials during the process. Honestly, it’s my favorite graduation so far - inidvidual attention for each senior and memories that will last a lifetime. What other class has ever had this type of graduation?
Some aspects of graduation remain the same, however, and that includes the Valedictorian and Salutatorian. The top two students in the class may not have had the opportunity to deliver their speech to the hundreds of people normally in attendance, but this in no way diminishes the work they put in to achieve these honors. Four years of hard work and dedication brought these two students to the highest achievements attainable in high school. And yes, they did get to give their speeches; they just delivered them on video. The speeches will be added to the full graduation video that will be released closer to the originally scheduled graduation date.
The Grenada High School 2020 Valedictorian is John Colin Keys. During his tenure at GHS, Colin received awards for highest AP U.S. History average and highest AP English III average. He was chosen for three years as a member of the All State Band, earning second chair in the state during his sophomore year and first in the state for both his junior and senior years. The son of John and Pam Keys, Colin will attend Ole Miss to major in music education. Afterwards, he plans to obtain a ministry degree in New Orleans. Colin finishes his term at GHS with a 4.0 average of 102.3607.
The GHS 2020 Salutatorian is Alexa Jane Simko. Alexa is the daughter of Stephen and Susan Simko and the granddaughter of Frank and Carole Simko and David and Jill Elrod and Roseann Plass. A four year member of Visions Showchoir, Alexa served as vocal captain during her senior year. She is a member of the National Honor Society where she is vice president. Alexa also particiapated in Mu Alpha Theta and Anchor Club of Grenada. She attends Calvary Baptist Church. Alexa plans to attend the University of Southern Mississippi to major in music education. Alexa completed her senior year with a 4.0 average of 102. 1573.
Congratulations to the GHS Class of 2020. Your story is one for the history books. Normal is a phrase you will never use to describe your senior year of high school. Embrace these unusual times and use them to your advantage as you enter this new world as young adults. You have learned to adapt to change and overcome obstacles - skills that will serve you well in the future - your future.