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An empty gym, full of pride

You never forget your high school graduation, and for the Lincoln County High School Class of 2020, that will definitely be true.

Over a three-day period this week, the members of the senior class walked into the gym, crossed the stage and received their diploma as they had planned to do for the past 12 years. Sort of.

Rather than entering a gym filled with friends, family members and classmates, the Class of 2020 walked into a gym with no more than five family members in attendance, and the gym was empty with the exception of a couple of members of a crew taking photos and creating a video of the event, along with a limited number of school staff members.

“This is my 18th year as a principal, and I’ve never seen anything similar to this at all,” said LCHS Principal Michael Godbey.

“It’s all very unusual. We tried to make it as traditional as we could. I met with the senior class officers and they wanted to be able to walk across the stage, so we’ve made it as traditional as we can, but it’s very, very non-traditional,” Godbey added.

After crossing the stage and receiving their diplomas, the students got to take one last walk, completely alone, through the halls of the high school. Their family members had to exit the school in preparation for the next graduate and their family members.

Godbey said safety was a focus of the event for school administration and staff members.

“We’ve done everything we can to keep everybody safe, everybody distanced as best we can, and following all of the health department and CDC guidelines,” he said.

It may not have been the graduation they hoped for, but members of the senior class were pleased to get to have the event at all. With some schools hosting virtual graduations, and others offering drive-thru graduations, getting to be in their school one more time was special for LCHS students.

“A lot of schools have had drive-thru graduations, so I’m glad we actually got to walk here in the gym,” said senior Brieanna Barnett. “But graduating like this, it’s weird. Very weird.”

Parents who waited to see their children graduate were proud of the accomplishments, but it wasn’t what they had planned from day one.

“Seeing him graduate under these circumstances, it is a little crazy,” said Brandon Baker, after watching his son, Weston Baker, receive his diploma Monday afternoon. “We never expected this to be how we watched our son graduate. We never expected this at all, but we are still very proud of him.”

Weston’s mom, Contessa Jones, added, “It’s very different, but I’m glad we’re here, no matter what. It takes a little bit away from it, but this is still good.”

As for Weston, he was just glad to get to be back in Lincoln County High School one more time.

“When I saw that school was going to be out, I didn’t really have any thoughts about it, I was just hoping I was going to be able to walk across the stage and see the school a last time, which I did,” he said.

He also got to see some staff members, who were special to him during his time at LCHS.

“I saw Crystal Collins. She’s like a mother to me. She’s family. I saw Mrs. (Kristen) Story, too, she’s the best. I just loved it,” Weston said.

He and his friends had been talking about graduation in recent weeks, and although it wasn’t what they had planned originally before COVID-19, he said the graduation ceremony the school provided was great.

“Me and my friends over the weeks, we’ve talked a whole lot,” he said. “I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t get to walk around with the whole group; we’ve stuck with each other since middle school. But we’re just happy to be here at all.”