Strolling up to collect his degree Thursday at Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, graduate Donnie Strauss took in the soaring highs of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” and savored the moment.

Strauss never could have anticipated graduating amid a deadly virus pandemic, but after juggling work and school to earn his advanced manufacturing degree, nothing was going to steal his shine. Strauss listened as his academic honors were read aloud, accepted his diploma and posed while a camera snapped away.

It made for an intimate ceremony. Strauss was accompanied by just one guest and a small group of campus staff, all of whom wore face masks and made sure to keep a healthy distance from one another. It was an experience Strauss shared with about 120 participating graduates this week at SKYCTC’s Bowling Green campus.

The personalized commencement ceremony was the kind of experience Strauss has come to expect from SKYCTC, one that centers his needs as a student. He credits his instructors, namely Brian Sparks and Tony Keen, for getting to know him not just as a pupil, but as a person.

“I really can’t say enough about them. … They’re very knowledgeable in their area of expertise,” said Strauss, a Nicholasville native.

He recalled how his instructors took the time to meet with him after class and described SKYCTC’s advanced manufacturing experience as an “excellent program (with) great instructors. I would definitely recommend it.”

For SKYCTC President Phillip Neal, it was a way to offer a bookend for a school year like no other.

“We did want to bring some closure for our students and their families,” Neal said, adding the priority was to do so in a way that “kept everyone safe and healthy.”

Throughout the week, SKYCTC has recognized graduates from different campus divisions.

On Thursday, the focus was on SKYCTC’s advanced manufacturing students, while Friday’s ceremonies will honor allied health graduates. All told, the college has conferred more than 800 degrees this year.

SKYCTC is gearing up for an Aug. 17 reopening when two-thirds of its classes will be taught on campus, albeit with a hybrid model that blends in-person and online learning. Neal said SKYCTC is redesigning its classrooms to comply with public health guidelines. Students will be expected to wear masks and conduct health checks at home before coming to class. While classes are held, the campus will implement meticulous cleaning procedures and regularly disinfect classrooms.

The current moment, however, is about celebrating students’ accomplishments, which are all the more impressive given that many have jobs and families to take care of while they pursue degrees.

“We’re very proud of our students,” he said.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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