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TIM BURKE: High school using novel approach for graduation

The stay-at-home order has robbed our young adults who graduate high school this year of significant milestones that mark their passage into adulthood.

Proms, school sports, scholarships, and graduation ceremonies are all victims of COVID-19 and Governor Sisolak’s stay-at-home order.

In an emergency press conference, the governor previously announced all K-12 public, private and charter schools would be closed effective Monday, March 16.

In April, the governor closed all school buildings for the rest of the school year. Schools scrambled to implement distance learning curriculum so that students could complete their studies for this year. All extracurricular activities ceased as a result of the order.

Who doesn’t remember how big of an event attending the high school prom was? The dance seemed so grown-up for us as we transitioned from teens to young adults. Young men who were far more comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt wore a suit and tie or perhaps a tuxedo. Young ladies dressed in cocktail dresses with their hair and makeup done in the latest trendy styles. We all thought we looked like twenty-somethings ready to hit the nightclubs. Remember asking Dad to borrow the car? And what an ordeal it was to buy a corsage. For young guys, it was nerve-wracking as you worked up enough courage to ask that girl you had a crush on if she would go with you as your date. For young ladies, it was equally stressful wondering who was going to ask you or if you and your best friends were going as a group and forego the stress of going with a date. You probably remember who you went with to the prom even if you lost touch with them after high school. These are memories that most of us will carry forever, but not for our high school seniors this year. There are no proms because of the shutdown.

The prom was an important event during our senior year, but graduation is light years ahead in terms of marking our transition to adulthood. For rural communities, the end of the school year graduation ceremony is an event that the whole town attends. Most school districts will not hold in-person graduations this year, but Beatty High School has taken a novel approach.

Steven Sullivan, a social studies teacher at Beatty High School, who is the senior class advisor, has organized a drive-in graduation ceremony this Friday evening for the 31 graduating seniors. Seniors are allowed to decorate their cars, and with their immediate family, they will participate in the graduation ceremony. There will be a designated parade route through the town of Beatty, and then the seniors will drive their cars onto the track surrounding the football field. Seniors and their immediate family must stay in their vehicle until it’s the graduating senior’s turn to pick up their diploma. Diplomas will be carefully laid out on tables in alphabetical order. As the senior’s name is called, they can exit their vehicles one by one to pick up their diploma. As part of the ceremony, the school will have a photo backdrop set up where seniors and their families can have their pictures taken by a photographer. Then it’s back into their vehicles, and it’s the next senior’s turn. The valedictorian and the salutatorian speeches will be prerecorded and shown on video to the attendees.

Is it safe? Some areas of the country have banned drive-in movies and church services in parking lots. But there is little available information on virus transmission by occupants of vehicles parked at least six feet apart. Common sense suggests that being out in the open air while maintaining social distancing reduces your risk. It’s certainly safer than being packed into Walmart with hundreds of people that don’t practice social distancing. The high school has taken strong measures to ensure that they are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the seniors and their families. The high school had to submit their graduation plans to the school district for approval. No one is allowed to park on the campus or to walk around the campus. Only immediate family members that can fit in one car will be allowed on the track. No other vehicles are allowed onto the field, and everyone must stay in their car except during the designated times. It’s not quite the same as being on the football field with all of your classmates and the grandstands packed with members of the community. But it will create a memory that the graduates will always be able to have as they transition to adulthood.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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