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Picayune School District announces plan for alternate commencement ceremony

Tuesday evening, Picayune Memorial High School Principal Kent Kirkland presented the District’s Board of Trustees with a plan that will give graduating seniors a proper send off during the school closures as part of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Kirkland said participation in what he described as a drive-thru ceremony will be optional, and be offered on two days to allow all seniors and their immediate family or guests to participate. The plan is to hold the event on May 21 and 22 from 2 to 7 p.m. each of those days. Kirkland said a stage will be set up on the varsity football field on the 20 yard line, since this is the class of 2020.
Seniors and their family, up to eight people plus the senior, will pull up to the band entrance on Laurel Street, exit their vehicle and enter the field, said Assistant Principal Toni Tucci.
As the student walks across the stage dressed in their cap and gown, they will be presented with their individual case for their diploma by a member of their family or a guest, where they can pose for a picture by a professional photographer from Giaise Studio. Copies of those photos can be purchased from the studio.
After the photo, the graduate will then walk to the other side of the stadium where a member of the faculty will provide the student with their diploma, after which they can reenter their vehicle from the field exit facing Norwood Street. Staff will not have direct contact with any student or their family, Kirkland said.
Kirkland said his intention is to divide the days between last names, with seniors with a last name starting with A-K attending the drive-thru ceremony on Thursday and the remaining seniors participating on Friday. However, he understands that families may have schedules that conflict with those days, so families with scheduling conflicts can call to let the staff know they will need to attend on the alternate day.
Initially Kirkland suggested limiting the number of family members or guests with the senior to four, but Board members Frank Ford and Josh Robertson said they received requests from community members to allow more family or guests to attend. Due to those requests, the decision was made to allow up to eight family members or guests.
All parking lots at and near the stadium will be blocked to deter additional people from being in or near the stadium.
This year’s graduating class has 215 students. Kirkland expects about 70 percent of those students to participate in this event. He suggested holding this modified commencement ceremony in May as opposed to a month or two later because a number of graduates will not be in town during the summer as they move on to college, the military or the workforce.
Kirkland said he and the rest of the high school’s administration developed this plan based on student requests to offer some form of ceremony at the stadium and allow them to walk across a stage, he said.
Diamond Productions will film the students as they participate in the event. The footage will be used to compile a video that will be provided to each graduate at the school’s expense.
Traffic leading into the stadium will be controlled by barricades and school resource officers. School resource officers will also ensure the limits on attendees is followed and traffic flows smoothly. Wheelchairs will be available for those who need them.
Students can pick up their eight tickets to the event from the high school starting Friday, May 15.
Should rain occur on either of those days, Kirkland said the event days can be switched to the following Saturday or Tuesday. Any student who misses the event can pick up their diploma from the school the Tuesday after Memorial Day from 8 a.m. to noon.
Plans to allow the valedictorian and salutatorian to give their speeches in front of their family are being ironed out. Those speeches will be filmed and live streamed.