MAHOMET — A backup plan was in place.
But fluidity is a constant necessity during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And Mahomet-Seymour High School’s administrators recognized they needed a backup to the backup for their Class of 2020 graduation event.
“We do have 210 graduates, so how can we safely put together a ceremony that recognizes everybody, and also in a timely manner (in which) we could do it equally and fairly,” M-S Principal Chad Benedict said. “Trust me, I don’t want this either. It’s hard.”
What Benedict and his cohorts came up with is a multifaceted, multiday setup that Benedict believes will provide all outgoing Bulldogs their moment in the sun while also adhering to Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education guidelines.
It’ll also see M-S graduates staying away from the University of Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and instead conducting muted festivities at their high school.
The Bulldogs’ turning of tassels initially was slated for May 22 at Krannert before being shifted to July 10 at the same location.
Then came Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s five-stage “Restore Illinois” plan earlier this week. The layout for reopening Illinois during this pandemic led Benedict and other M-S leaders to believe they couldn’t feasibly conduct a graduation ceremony at Krannert this year.
“We really tried to explore some outdoor options, but with size of the graduating class, it would’ve been spread out over multiple days,” Benedict said. “We were uncomfortable trying to bank on the multiple days in order to get that done.”
So M-S administrators turned to those most affected by uncertainty surrounding a graduation ceremony: the seniors themselves.
“We hear a lot from students about how being in the building was important to them,” Benedict said. “They miss the building and miss being here. Maybe doing something in our building would help bring closure to their academic career here.”
That’s exactly what the Bulldogs will do.
Beginning at 8:30 a.m. May 16, groups of 10 students will enter the high school for a condensed celebration. They’ll first be greeted by a photographer outside the front doors, snapping initial images of kids in their cap and gown.
No family members are permitted to attend with the students. Instead, the ceremony will be livestreamed on M-S’ Bulldog TV via YouTube.
The only people inside the high school gymnasium at a given time will be 10 students, another photographer and “administrators and a couple office personnel,” according to Benedict. He added that officials still are deciding how to give students their diplomas.
Blocks of 10 kids will come through the gym and walk across a stage every 15 minutes, and video from the event will be compiled into one large feature. Additionally, kids will get senior letters — written to them by family members when the seniors were in eighth grade — that are normally distributed at a separate breakfast meet-up.
Then, for half an hour starting at 6:30 p.m. May 22 — the original graduation day for M-S seniors — another event will occur in the high school parking lot. Staff members will be parked in their cars, at which time students can drive past and say goodbye from their own vehicles.
Rounding out graduation activities is the public release of M-S’ complete graduation video at 7:30 p.m. through Bulldog TV.
“We’ve received a lot of thank-yous and positives, and people have been supportive,” Benedict said. “There are some people that are frustrated, and I think everybody wants to see their child graduate — and we certainly understand that.”