NORTH PORT, Fla (WFLA) – Seniors at North Port High School weren’t sure if they’d have the opportunity to walk across the stage amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sarasota County School District leaders made the tough call to cancel all in-person graduation ceremonies due to the rising number of cases in the area.
Community members immediately stepped up to make sure the Class of 2020 had their moment. Organizers planned what they call ‘alternate graduation’ in less than two weeks.
Three ceremonies took place throughout the day Thursday with health and safety at the top of mind.
Everyone attending the alternate graduation had to undergo a temperature check, fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire, and wear a face mask. Each student was limited to two guests due to limited space and social distancing requirements.
“I had my grandparents in the car and just my parents here on the field for me,” said student body president Arianna Gonzalez. “I think they did a great job with everything,” she continued.
Organizer Justin Willis tells 8 On Your Side the ceremonies went better than expected given the limited planning.
“It was great to watch the parents start crying when you’re standing up there and to see them get to have that moment,” said Willis. “To be able to give it to them in a way that is safe and spread out and done with a level of love and energy is freaking amazing,” he continued.
Gonzalez says the alternate graduation meant the world to her and her fellow classmates.
“It was definitely surreal. I was on the stage and I was like wow, this is it, this is what I have been working for,” said Gonzalez.
“Your whole life you dream about the education of your kids, the day that you see them walking across the stage and knowing that they have accomplished something,” said Arianna’s father, Alberto Gonzalez. “Today was special,” he continued.
Congressman Greg Steube gave the commencement speech at the first ceremony of the day.
“What a great example of the community coming together to support their graduates in a time where we are social distancing and we are doing the things that that we have to do and the school district didn’t want them having a graduation ceremony so what a great thing for North Port and for our graduates here in North Port,” said Congressman Steube.
Organizers say the alternate graduation wouldn’t have been possible without support from the community.
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