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Parish high schools make graduation plans

In-person ceremonies to be held, though with restrictions
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
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Edit: Choudrant High School's graduation date has been corrected to May 21.

Now that Louisiana’s stay-at-home order will officially expire Friday, high schools in Lincoln Parish have released their plans to hold inperson graduation ceremonies in the coming weeks, though they may look different than in past years.

Ruston High School and Cedar Creek School will hold their ceremonies in their respective football stadiums, with Ruston High’s at 7 p.m. on May 29 and Cedar Creek’s at 7 p.m. on June 4. In case of inclement weather, RHS will hold its ceremony the next day, May 30, at 2 p.m.

Lincoln Preparatory School, meanwhile, will host a graduation parade in Grambling on June 4 starting at 6:30 p.m. The parade will wind from Grambling City Park to the parking lot across from the school, where students will receive their diplomas.

Choudrant High School students will walk the stage in the school’s gymnasium starting at 6:30 p.m. on May 21, while Simsboro School’s graduation will take place in the auditorium at 7 p.m. on May 28.

“This is just about the best news we could hope for,” RHS Principal Dan Gressett said. “All along for the kids’ sake, we wanted to have an inperson graduation. We just didn’t know if it was going to be possible.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday that the stay-at-home order and 10-person gathering limit put in place in March to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus will be lifted on Friday as the state moves into Phase One of economic reopening. Phase One still limits non-essential businesses to 25% of their normal maximum capacity.

In order to comply with that guideline, the three public school graduations in Lincoln Parish will each limit attendance to two guests per graduate, a limit that officials say will be strictly enforced.

The school district will provide N95 face masks for any graduate who asks for one, and those will be the only masks students are allowed to wear during the ceremony.

Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks as well.

“It’s not an ideal situation — nothing has been ideal in this,” Gressett said. “But if we’re going to do an in-person graduation, there’s some pretty strict guidelines we have to follow. At the end of the day, it’s for the kids.”

The ceremonies are optional, and students who don’t wish to attend will still have their names called during the event and receive their diploma in the mail. The graduations will also be streamed live on Facebook for loved ones who can’t attend in person to watch from home.

“This may end up being a neat new deal where the people at home get to watch it, and then the graduates and the parents get home, and the party is on,” Simsboro Principal Rusty Farrar said.

Lincoln Prep’s parade and ceremony will also be aired live on the radio and posted to YouTube. The frequency will be shared closer to the event.

Cedar Creek Head of School Andrew Yepson said the Cougars’ graduation won’t have an attendance limit, but spectators will still be spread out across the stadium to encourage social distancing.

“This means more to the seniors and their families than anybody will ever know,” Yepson said.

“They missed all their spring activities, sports and just the fun of being a senior. So this is just a little something we can do for them.”

Louisiana is tentatively set to move on from Phase One on June 5. Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Mike Milstead said the district preferred to do its graduations this month rather than wait for restrictions to potentially loosen in the summer.

“There are a couple parishes giving out diplomas this week and having a ceremony in July,” he said. “We know the longer we wait, the fewer (graduates) you’ll have come back for it.”

Many details must still be ironed out for each ceremony, but Choudrant High Principal Tony Antley said at the end of the day, the Class of 2020 has earned everything schools can do to honor them.

“In this day and time, they’ve seen a lot of things happen in their lives already,” Antley said. “They’re resilient, and I think they’ve responded well. To be able to put an exclamation mark on the year with as normal of a graduation as we can provide, we’re excited about doing that.”

Farrar said if Simsboro had been forced to do an online-only graduation, they would have. But the current plan is a vast improvement for his senior class.

“This group was in eighth grade when I started here, and to see them come through their high school career, how they’ve grown and matured, it’s really special,” Farrar said. “We were just crossing our fingers that we were going to get to do something for them. It’s the best we could have hoped for, given the circumstances.”