Graduations are normally about gathering together to celebrate the accomplishments and hard work of students as they take another step forward in life’s journey.

Those celebrations will look different for several graduates in the Class of 2020, and those from high schools in Rome and Floyd County are dealing with the change along with them.

But those who are carrying the flag for this year’s grads are, like many, trying to make the most of difficult times where the dangers of COVID-19 have forced virtual or drive-thru events to be substituted for in-person ceremonies.

This weekend was circled on most seniors’ calendars, with Rome High School and the four Floyd County high schools having scheduled their graduations for either Friday or Saturday. Those students will still be able to participate in some form or fashion now, while each school district has set dates for later in the summer to possibly hold traditional graduation ceremonies.

“This weekend is what I have been waiting for since I started school 12 years ago,” Coosa valedictorian Emily Van Kleef said. “This week, I’ve had a few really sad moments and some frustrating ones too. I keep thinking about how unfair this all is, but ultimately, it’s out of my control.”

Van Kleef will join her classmates at Coosa’s drive-thru ceremony Saturday at 6 p.m.

Rome High is holding a virtual graduation ceremony Saturday on Facebook Live and airing on the videoboard at Barron Stadium starting at 8:45 a.m.

Armuchee’s drive-thru graduation begins Saturday at 10 a.m. and will include a 30-second moment of silence during the Facebook livestream to honor the memory of Vanita Richardson. Richardson, who was a member of the Class of 2020, was one of two women killed last week.

Model’s drive-thru event will begin at 2 p.m. and will be streamed on Facebook Live as well.

Pepperell valedictorian Anwyn Shanahan participated in her school’s drive-thru graduation Friday evening and said she was thankful for the school and the school district for holding something when graduation was initially supposed to be held.

“It has been an interesting experience leading up to this, having to keep checking dates and getting updates and phone calls, but I’m excited to be a part of something that has never been done before,” Shanahan said. “The class of 2020 will be the first class to graduate this way and I am very appreciative that our schools and school systems were willing and able to move forward with some type of graduation.”

Rome High valedictorian Aaron Bartleson said he can’t help but feel a little disappointed about how his senior year has turned out, but he has looked at the positive side of it.

“I think, if anything, it’s going to be a memorable graduation, maybe just not for the right reasons,” Bartleson said. “I think what this quarantine has given us is a better appreciation for the value of our time, how at any moment life can happen and we can be robbed of the moments we take for granted with our teachers or our friends.”

While not holding a type of event this weekend, Darlington is planning two commencement ceremonies later this year to accommodate their graduates.

Kasey Barnett, a day student from Cedartown, is the valedictorian for the Darlington class of 2020 and was reflective about the experiences that were taken away by classes moving online in March.

“I think this pandemic has given us the opportunity to recognize how much we valued being able to go to school. We know how different things can be when that isn’t allowed, so I think that will make us more appreciative of our opportunities in the future,” Barnett said.

“It’s important to realize that it’s OK for us to feel upset about the forced ending of our senior year. We’re allowed to be upset and mourn the ‘what could have beens,’ as long as we also recognize our blessings in this time of tragedy.”

“I think I can speak for all seniors that while this is such a difficult and challenging time, I think it will shape us into better individuals,” Van Kleef said. “I’m hoping that this experience will make us more aware of the things that truly matter and thankful for what we have.

“I want to remind my fellow graduates that we’ll be OK. No, we did not want this ending, but it’s what we have, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. We’re still getting our diplomas and we can still call ourselves high school graduates. Whether we walk across the stage or not, this virus cannot take away our accomplishment.”

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