It wasn’t the way Kiyah Ragland expected to graduate.
Walking across the stage in Bowling Green High School’s near-empty arena, she collected her diploma and posed for pictures taken by a handful of her closest family members, who had donned face coverings.
Apart from that, and some photo opportunities along the way, she wore her own face mask and kept a healthy distance from school staff members, who acted as ushers balancing both warmth and efficiency.
Restrictions posed by the coronavirus meant these individualized ceremonies had to run like clockwork. Was Ragland disappointed?
“No, not at all.” she said. “I actually like it better.”
Born into a post-Sept. 11 world, the Class of 2020 knows nothing other than upheaval.
As he looks ahead to the next chapter of his life, Hamilton Castellon’s plans to attend classes at Western Kentucky University have been thrown into uncertainty.
Normally, he’d spend the first semester forging vital relationships with new friends and professors. Now, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach while WKU irons out more concrete plans for the fall.
“I do not function well in online classes. I need, like, actual people to be around me to show me the way a bit,” he said.
Bowling Green High School’s Class of 2020 includes 266 graduates, many of whom have been cycling through the social distance-friendly ceremonies since Sunday.
They’re slated to conclude Wednesday, ahead of a virtual ceremony that will be broadcast on the district’s Facebook page at 2 p.m. this Sunday and include messages from BGHS Principal Kyle McGraw and others.
“At first, I didn’t even think we were going to have a graduation (ceremony),” Ragland said, adding that she was pleased with her experience Tuesday.
She preferred the more intimate ceremony over one in a crowded high school gymnasium.
“Having a personal experience with my family, it’s awesome. It’s a huge blessing to be able to have teachers and peers make this happen,” Ragland said, adding that her late aunt, Joyce Webb, was on her mind. “I’m proud of myself for making it … being able to accomplish this.”
It began at a check-in station where she and her guests, like many of the graduates who had come before and after her, were briefed on the public health guidelines they would need to follow. Then they moved along through several designated stops: a chance to jot down their name on a wall or stand in front of a photography backdrop and toss their cap into the air while parents snapped away on their smartphones.
It ended with applause from school staff, who presented each student with a gift – a small box with keepsakes inside, among them, encouraging notes from their teachers.
No doubt, the experience wasn’t how McGraw expected his first year on the job to end.
“This is an extremely special senior class to me,” he said. “They have handled COVID-19 with so much grace. … They’ve really just been a group that we are going to be sad to see leave Bowling Green High School, but excited for their futures.”
This year’s graduating class boasts many firsts and some weighty lasts. Its members are the first class to experience the school’s freshman leadership academy and its college-cohort program. They are the last to study in the old BGHS, which is undergoing extensive renovations.
Bowling Green High School’s top five graduates based on weighted grade-point-average include Alex Yusk, Leah Tabor, Evan Spader, Emma Kate Widener and Campbell Garvin.
BGHS Class of 2020 graduates are planning to attend 30 different colleges and universities this fall, two are National Merit Award finalists, one will participate in the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs, four in the Governor’s School for the Arts, and eight students are joining various military branches.
Among them is Antonio Hernandez, who’s joining the National Guard. Now, after moving around a lot as a kid, Hernandez seems to have found his footing.
“I’m just really proud to be from this school,” he said. “This school has changed my life a lot.”