Corona graduations held for four county schools

Christiansburg’s Garrett Kuchan poses on the stage to have his picture taken by family and friends who are sitting in their vehicle during the drive-through graduation ceremony on Saturday. Kuchan, who will attend the Air Force Academy in the fall, was t

The COVID-19 pandemic left many members of the Class of 2020 and their friends and family members wondering if they would have a graduation ceremony. That question got a positive response Saturday as county officials joined forces with those from the towns of Christiansburg and Blacksburg and a special effort by Virginia Tech to hold an open-air event for this year’s graduating class.

A stage was set up in the Cage parking lot at VT, and first responders from several jurisdictions directed traffic in and out of the area. Christiansburg High School, Blacksburg High School, Auburn High School and East Montgomery High School each had its own graduation ceremony starting early in the morning and lasting for more than eight hours.

Cars were decorated and entered the parking lot at Virginia Tech with students wearing their cap and gown while sitting in their family’s car. When the cars neared the stage area, the students exited and walked across the stage to receive their diplomas from school administrators.

They stopped to pose for pictures before walking off the stage and back to their parents’ car. The process was repeated for all four schools.

One sign on a graduate’s car explained it all: “2020 Rona graduate.”

Dr. Mark Miear, the superintendent of schools, said it was amazing to see the cooperative effort that produced Saturday’s ceremonies. “It has been an unbelievable effort, and I am so proud of what we were able to do for the students,” he said.

Auburn graduate Carson East lost his senior baseball season, but he was happy to have the opportunity to celebrate his graduation with family and classmates. He said he hoped this was the only graduating class ever to make history associated with the coronavirus.

Jenna Shelburne from Auburn High School was one of many seniors who were given a chance to gather with family and friends on Saturday.

“It was terrible when we lost our spring season and then were told school would be cancelled. It was very nice to be able to have this graduating ceremony,” he said.

Christiansburg’s Kendall and Matson Stanley were among the graduates as the twins walked across the stage together. But it was Kendall who took a moment to remember a classmate who did not receive a chance to receive her diploma that choked up many of the onlookers during the final ceremony of the day.

Ashlyn Poole died last year in a tragic car wreck, but her classmates have done their best to keep her memory alive. Kendall held up a picture of Poole as she walked across the stage.

“I have felt this year the school was silencing our feelings and ideas to remember Ashlyn and knowing they wouldn’t have saved a seat at graduation broke her friends’ and family’s hearts,” said Kendall.

“After the school didn’t say her name at graduation, it made me want to show the school and everyone that Ashlyn and her legacy won’t ever be forgotten. She was a huge part of CHS student life as well as athletics and deserves to be remembered,” Kendall said.