PHHS seniors prepare for virtual commencement

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Pendleton Heights High School students Keegan McClure, left, and Jack Elijah walk the halls on Tuesday, May 26. Students were allowed into the school to pick up their cap and gowns as well as any other awards from their senior year. There will be no formal graduation ceremony but a virtual graduation instead due to the COVID-19 virus. Tom Russo | The Tiimes-Post

PENDLETON — Students from Pendleton Heights High School took their first steps back into the school since the traditional 2019-20 academic year came to an end in March.

For the seniors, it was one step closer to graduation.

Pendleton Heights’ Class of 2020 picked up caps and gowns and other graduation items from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday in the school cafeteria. To abide by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s self-distancing orders, only students were allowed in the building.

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School officials passing out the articles wore face masks.

“It was a little nostalgic,” Pendleton Heights senior Luke Hargrave said.

It was his first time being in the school since all was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, South Madison Community School Corp. announced on its website that the high school would have a virtual commencement ceremony. The graduation celebration is slated for 2 p.m. Sunday, May 31 — the same date the traditional graduation had been scheduled, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A link to the virtual service will be provided prior to the date of the event.

“We went from being here every day to just coming in and picking up everything. It was just different. I don’t know when I’ll step in there again,” Hargrave said.

Senior Katie Ferguson had mixed emotions on her first trip back to the school.

“It was kind of depressing,” Ferguson said.

She said it was sad being handed a diploma by one of the counselors rather than getting it handed to her on stage by the principal.

She was able to find some bright spots on the day, though, as each student went to their classrooms to drop off books with teachers.

“It was nice to see some teachers and classmates,” she said. “There was no prom, so it was good to see some people that I didn’t know if I would see again.”

According to Pendleton Heights Principal Connie Rickert, the school is still hopeful to have a traditional commencement in July, when the governor’s “Back on Track Plan” will allow larger events to take place.

“I am hopeful we have a regular graduation,” Hargrave said. “It’s a goal of ours to walk across that stage.”

Ferguson, too, is holding out hope for an outdoor event.

“To me, I’d much rather wait and go outside,” she said, noting some other schools have already scheduled commencement dates in July.

Hargrave, who went through the pick-up and drop-off process Tuesday, said it took about 20 minutes.

After the school’s statement on commencement, Rickert said, “The goal set for the virtual graduation is to make sure the accomplishments of our seniors are recognized and celebrated.”

The virtual ceremony will include traditional commencement speeches, previously recorded, from class officers, the valedictorian and salutatorian, along with goodbye messages from faculty and staff.

There are 322 members of the Pendleton Heights High School Class of 2020.

Along with cap and gown, students picked up diploma covers, award sashes, letter jackets, certificates and plaques. Seniors, as well as underclassmen, were also instructed to clean out lockers and drop off school-owned items during their assigned time.