No traditional graduation ‘heartbreaking’ for Lakota

Lakota school officials have announced they are planning opportunities for graduating seniors to pick up their diplomas later this month. (File Photo/Journal-News)
Lakota school officials have announced they are planning opportunities for graduating seniors to pick up their diplomas later this month. (File Photo/Journal-News)

The superintendent of Butler County’s largest school district said he was disappointed that it can’t hold a traditional high school graduation this year due to the coronavirus.

Superintendent Matthew Miller sent out a letter to the district’s seniors and their parents outlining plans for diploma pickup for Lakota East and Lakota West students.

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Miller said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine this week clarified that physical or social distancing must be the top priority in planning a graduation ceremony, eliminating the possibility of a mass gathering for a district the size of Lakota.

He said while virtual ceremonies are the preferred method, schools are permitted to host an opportunity for graduates to receive their diplomas in person, as long as the gathering does not exceed more than 10 people and still respects social distancing rules. Further guidance from the Butler County Health Department has also eliminated the option of an indoor gathering, he said.

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Miller wrote he understood the “deep disappointment” that comes with the announcement. So the district has decided to proceed with a combination of both formats to honor the Lakota East and Lakota West Class of 2020.

In addition to a virtual celebration that the district will unveil through a live watch party in early June (dates to be determined), it will offer graduates and their families a “personal graduation experience,” Miller wrote.

Tentatively set for May 30 and possibly May 31 depending on the number of participants, each graduate will be invited to receive their diploma case in a drive-through procession.

Here are the guidelines under which Lakota will operate for this event, under the advisement of the Butler County Health Department:

• One car per graduate will be permitted to use the fire lane at each high school and stop in front of the building.

• The graduate and one family member may exit the car at this time.

• Graduates will walk toward the school where their name will be called. Although limited staff will be present for the occasion, to honor all physical distancing rules, graduates will retrieve their diploma case from a table, free of any physical contact.

• Diplomas will be mailed to each home in June.

• Every graduate will be professionally photographed once they receive their diploma case.

• Each graduate’s guest will be permitted to take personal video and photographs while the graduate receives their diploma case, while respecting physical distancing rules.

• After having their photograph taken, graduates and their guests will be expected to immediately exit the fire lane. Any congregation in the parking lot will not be permitted and will be strictly enforced.

• Graduates are encouraged to wear their cap and gown. Their principals will be communicating more information about pick-up procedures soon.

Miller said he understands not every graduate will choose to participate in this portion of the commemoration. He said the virtual celebration will honor every graduate and will include some elements of regular commencement traditions, along with other special tributes.

“As heartbreaking as this news is for all of our students and their families, these decisions have not come easily,” Miller wrote. “We are truly heartbroken knowing all that our students and their families have sacrificed throughout this pandemic. We are doing everything in our power to give our graduates a memorable experience and some form of closure, while still honoring the state’s health guidelines.”

Miller encouraged students to watch the “Parade of Graduates” videos being posted daily beginning May 11. Additionally, he wrote, the district is encouraging the community to help “light the path” for the seniors. On May 20 for Lakota West and May 22 for Lakota East, the district is asking the community to tie a ribbon in the school colors on a tree or light post in their yard, along with turning on their porch lights for 20 minutes, beginning at 8:20 p.m.

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