By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Though not able to have a traditional graduation ceremony due to precautions surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19), Cherokee High School (CHS) is planning an alternative they hope will honor the Class of 2020 in the most appropriate way. The graduation event will occur on Thursday, May 28 and will involve a parade through downtown Cherokee as well as a modified diploma ceremony with each student being honored individually.
“We suspected early on in the school closure that we may have to cancel our traditional graduation ceremony, and we wanted to do whatever we could to avoid total cancellation,” said Dr. Debora Forest, CHS principal. “We began creating various scenarios, considering all guidance from the CDC, state, and Tribal PHHS (Public Health and Human Services). We also had lots of great ideas and input from community members.”
The parade will kick off the festivities as the seniors will line up in vehicles, adorned with two magnets featuring the graduate, in graduation order along Whitewater Drive. The parade line-up will start at 2 p.m. and will start at 4 p.m. Each senior is being allowed two vehicles – one for them to drive or ride in and another for family members.
The parade route will go through downtown Cherokee, turn right onto US 441 and end at the traffic light at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
The graduation ceremony has a lot of moving parts with many tribal programs and staff involved to make it work. “Ultimately, through the support from various organizations and individuals, we were able to get our graduation plan approved,” said Dr. Foerst. “We appreciate EBCI PHHS, Secretary Bradley, Chief Sneed and his staff, Vice Chief Ensley, EBCI Communications, EBCI Risk Management, Cherokee Indian Police Dept., and the CCS (Cherokee Central Schools) School Board.”
Once the parade finishes, students will make their way to the CCS campus. Everyone attending the diploma ceremony at the school is being asked to wear a mask and practice social distancing, including the pre-arranged social distancing provided in the ceremony itself.
According to the official plans submitted by CHS officials and approved by tribal officials, the plan will go as follows:
* They (students/families) will enter through the North Gate and circle behind the school.
* The first two cars will pull up to the Cherokee Middle School entrance and other cars will follow.
* The first graduate will get out with (up to) nine family members, walk under the awning in front of the gallery, and enter the CAC (Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center) through the Cherokee Elementary School entrance.
* The next graduate and family members will be queued under the awning near the entrance, and the next graduate will be queued under the awning at least six feet away from the family in front and so on.
* When a graduate enters the CAC, his or her name will be called as he/she walks across the stage to receive a CHS diploma.
* The graduate will exit via the Cherokee Middle School entrance.
One Feather staff will be outside to take photos of the graduates with their diplomas as they exit. The parade will be live streamed on the CCS Facebook page, and EBCI Communications will live stream the diploma ceremony and subsequently produce an after video compilation for graduates which will also to be replayed on Cherokee Cablevision Channel 28.
The plan also states, “The graduates may leave once they get back to their cars, or they are welcomed to park in the CHS staff or student lots and take pictures on campus (Ray Kinsland Stadium, Charles George Memorial Arena, CHS sign, courtyard) while maintaining social distancing.”
Dr. Foerst thanked school officials and staff for their work in getting this plan together. “We really could not have done this without our amazing Community Affairs/Public Relations Dept. at Cherokee Central Schools. If we dream it, they make it happen! Our support departments – Security, IT, Athletics, and Facilities – are also a big part of helping us honor and celebrate the Class of 2020 in this very special way.”
She went on to say, “We do hate that we cannot have guests on campus for the diploma ceremony, but the parade provides a great opportunity for family, friends, and the community to come out to support and cheer on our CHS graduates. Plus, all graduation speeches have been pre-recorded to be aired, and the rest of the program will be live streamed on Facebook and our local cable channel.”
Dr. Foerst concluded, “Throughout the planning and preparation of this alternate graduation, we have kept our seniors at the heart of it all. They deserve the best celebration possible, given the conditions and limitations, to commemorate their accomplishments.”