BOONE — In accordance with state-mandated restrictions on large gatherings, Watauga High School plans to host an outdoor “drive-through” graduation ceremony on Saturday, May, 30, at the school.

The ceremony will include many of the aspects of a traditional ceremony while taking precautions to protect the health and safety of the students. Weather permitting, the ceremony will be held outdoors on the WHS campus on an elevated stage.

Graduates and their families will drive onto campus and be routed around the building to the outdoor stage. At this time, the school system is allowing multiple vehicles in a graduation caravan-type style and ask that seniors be in the front vehicle. Seniors will be asked to exit their vehicles and walk across the stage in their caps and gowns to receive their diploma. When the senior is on stage, families will have an opportunity to take photos and celebrate their student’s achievement. The ceremony will include speeches by student leaders, Principal Chris Blanton and Superintendent Scott Elliott.

Blanton said that while state restrictions have forced significant changes on the school’s commencement ceremony, WHS staff was doing everything possible to give students a chance to experience the graduation ceremony they deserve.

“We wish nothing more than to be able to hold our usual graduation ceremony and to celebrate the success of our graduating seniors in the full assembly we’re used to, but since that is not possible at this time, we want to hold a ceremony that includes as many traditional elements of graduation as we can,” Blanton said.

Blanton said the individualized ceremony would include everything from a presentation of colors from the WHS MCJROTC to “Pomp and Circumstance” playing while students pick up their diplomas on stage in their caps and gowns.

Watauga High School stated it has hired professional photographers that will be set to capture graduating seniors as they cross the stage, as well as a team of videographers who will document the entire ceremony and release a video within a week of graduation.

Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott said the system was doing everything possible to ensure that families could have access to the graduation ceremony.

“We had the opportunity to meet with student leaders in the graduating class to get an idea of what their priorities were for a graduation ceremony,” Elliott said. “Two themes very quickly came to the top. Seniors want to be able to cross a stage to get their degree, and they want their families to be able to be there when that happens.”

“We’ve been in contact with local health officials and emergency management, and based on their recommendations, we think the best way to ensure as many family members can attend the ceremony as possible is to hold commencement outdoors with each student being recognized one at a time.”

Elliott said he was excited that the event would be professionally photographed and captured on video bringing even more chances for the ceremony to be viewed by friends and family.

“Our students have been through so much this year,” Elliott said, “and in a lot of ways it is our seniors who have felt the disruption most acutely. While circumstances have denied them some of the traditions and events that we hold dearly to mark the end of our high school education, we want to do everything in our power to ensure they can have the best-possible graduation.”

WHS seniors will receive additional information regarding the logistics of the commencement ceremony in the coming days. The high school plans to divide the ceremony up in alphabetical order to help facilitate the smooth flow of traffic.

Seniors were asked to pick up their caps and gowns on May 14 at the high school. AS students drove up, WCS staff handed them their graduation regalia as well as student awards they had received and a flyer with instructions with more to follow.

In the past, seniors at WHS and the Watauga Innovation Academy have enjoyed a senior awards ceremony and a separate scholarship ceremony. The scholarships will now be announced in a pre-recorded message at 6 p.m. on May 26 with a link to the pre-recorded ceremony available on the high school webpage.

WHS school counselor Wes Calbreath said if an organization would like to pre-record a video message of congratulations to the winner, the school can insert the message into the ceremony. He added that officials will ensure that homage will be paid to the origin of the scholarship. If there is any history or information a presenter would like to send to Calbreath, he said that can be inserted as well. The recording of the ceremony must be finished by May 20, he said.

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