Soloman Fredenburg, Matthew Critcher, Hailey Combs

Soloman Fredenburg, Matthew Critcher and Hailey Combs social distance and stand apart while waiting to receive their diplomas.

BOONE — In a ceremony that was certainly different than years past, Watauga High School and Watauga Innovation Academy officials conferred diplomas to 335 seniors of the Class of 2020 during a drive-thru graduation on May 30.

“I know this is a ceremony that none of us will ever forget. It was a beautiful day filled for celebration and time to honor each individual student and family,” said Superintendent Scott Elliott. “It was a very appropriate ending for a class of special students we will never forget.”

School officials created a unique graduation experience for seniors in order to follow guidelines set forth by the state to remain socially distant due to the COVID-19 pandemic. AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene and Watauga County Director of Emergency Services Will Holt reviewed the WHS graduation plans and offered advice on how to ensure that the event was as safe and healthy as possible, according to Elliott.

Graduates and their families were lined up in vehicles and were guided through a route around the school’s parking lot. Once they arrived at the side of the school closest to the football field, families were able to exit their vehicles and watch their graduates cross an outdoor stage to receive their diploma.

Students would line up behind the stage with space between them to remain socially distant. One at a time, the seniors entered onto the stage and received their diploma with the help of Superintendent Scott Elliott, Watauga County Board of Education Chair Ron Henries and Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton.

Numerous staff members assisted with traffic, greeted and directed the families to the stage as well as cheered seniors on as they left the stage, Elliott said. He mentioned that he, Blanton and WHS Assistant Principal and CTE Director Tierra Stark — who read the names aloud of each graduate — stood on the stage for eight consecutive hours to ensure each senior received their diploma. Once seniors exited the stage, they were given bags of items by Assistant Principal Rachel Shephard and Laura Turner.

Planning for this year’s graduation was a combination of efforts from WHS staff. Stark had the vision for creating an elevated stage where students would be able to walk across the top of the spirit rock located outside of the school as they received their diplomas. Elliott said construction teachers built the scaffolding and structure for the stage. Art teachers then created the mural on the rock.

Photographers and videographers were lined around the outside of the stage to capture the day. The Watauga Education Foundation helped to fund a live stream of the event — which was viewed around the world, Elliott said. A commemorative video with student speeches, music and the diploma ceremony will be available later in the week.

“We knew that for many people it would be difficult to attend graduation in person, so we wanted to be open to every option,” Elliott said.

The school system also had support from the community, local businesses and the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, he added. Elliott said the response from families and seniors who attended the graduation was very positive.

“Since the start of the pandemic, grace and flexibility has been our constant refrain, and our graduation ceremony really showed that our community has a great deal of both,” Elliott said. “While we wished nothing more than to be able to give our seniors the commencement they expected, it was an honor to be able to work with so many people to develop a creative solution to ensure that families could watch their senior cross the stage and receive a diploma.”

Lauren Cottom and family

Lauren Cottom’s family attends her graduation ceremony on May 30. Julia Parsons, Jamie Burlew-Cottom, Kaylee Cottom, Denise Cottom, Jordan Burlew-Cottom, Lauren Cottom, Lisa Cottom and Lenny Cottom.

McKenzie Bean

Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton hands McKenzie Bean his diploma alongside Watauga County Board of Education Chair Ron Henries.

Lena Combs

Lena Combs shows support for her granddaughter, Haley Combs, while she accepts her high school diploma.

Christopher "Adrion" Cassidy

Christopher Adrion Cassidy prepares to accept his high school diploma during a graduation ceremony on May 30.

Marley Forrester

Marley Forrester is handed her diploma by Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton.

Car line

A line of vehicles — some adorned with balloons and posters — prepare to watch their graduates accept diplomas during a drive-thru graduation ceremony on May 30.

Andrew Freeman, Mitchell Greene

Andrew Freeman and Mitchell Greene smile after both accepting their diplomas on May 30.

Taniaya "Alexia" Danner

Taniaya ‘Alexia’ Danner smiles after receiving her diploma during a drive-thru graduation.

Drive-thru graduation

School officials and photographers stand at the ready during the May 30 drive-thru graduation.

Scott Elliott, Ron Henries, Chris Blanton

Superintendent Scott Elliott, Watauga County Board of Education Chair Ron Henries and Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton help to confer diplomas to seniors on May 30.

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