PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Palm Beach County high school seniors are celebrating plans for in-person graduations in June after all ceremonies went virtual last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: State Of Education
"When the news came out that we were having in-person graduation, first off, I screamed," said Intera Yaemsiriwong, the class president at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens.
Yaemsiriwong can't wait for her big moment.
"I just felt like the high school experience wasn’t complete unless I walked across the stage," Yaemsiriwong said.
With only a handful of seniors on campus at Dwyer High School right now, Yaemsiriwong said she's looking forward to seeing the class of 2021 all back together again.
"Most of us haven’t seen each other since last March, so it's going to be really different and everyone’s changed. So that’s what I'm really excited for," Yaemsiriwong said. "We've been working on the flower decorating and the chair covers, the program, getting everyone set up for that."
Yaemsiriwong added the graduation ceremony will be especially meaningful for her parents.
"I’m the first one to graduate in my family from high school in general," Yaemsiriwong said. "They were really stoked to see that I’m actually going to walk across the stage and do my speech and get my diploma then and there."
Palm Beach County Graduation Administrator Eric Stern and his team have been working since August to plan a socially distanced and safe graduation that will, of course, look a little bit different.
"We're expecting to make amazing moments for families and graduates," Stern said.
The graduates will walk through a door and into the East Expo Center at the South Florida Fairgrounds where their families will be sitting in pods of two. Each school has 1,740 tickets to give out. That's compared to the 4,500 tickets they usually have for a traditional graduation.
"Each student will get two tickets, and then there is an opportunity through the schools and school principals for extra tickets remaining," Stern said.
While families will be seated in the east room, the graduates will be seated in the west room.
"The students will come across the stage the opposite way. They’ll receive their diploma on stage, take a picture with their principal, and when they come down, they’ll actually walk on the red carpet and go back into the Hall of Fame seating area," Stern said.
HOW GRADUATION WILL WORK:
Everyone will be required to wear a mask and there won't be handshakes this year. But there will be tradition and celebration.
"I definitely think us having this is just a huge positive," said fellow Dwyer class officer Chance Gagnon. "I’m very excited I get to see all my friends and previous classmates that I haven’t seen since March."
Gagnon agreed that this is what students need to round out the school year.
"It would have been a lot different if [graduation] were virtual," Gagnon said. "It really would not have had the same feeling of walking in-person."
"We know we got gypped of prom and we got gypped of grad bash and all the pep rallies. But this will probably be the icing on the cake for everyone," Yaemsiriwong said.
Giving the class of 2021 the sendoff the deserve.
"This is the biggest event, this is the most ceremonial event the district will pull off," Stern said. "We want families to know if they come here, they are going to have a great experience. It's going to be safe."
The first Palm Beach County school to hold a graduation ceremony at the South Florida Fairgrounds will be Santaluces Community High School on June 7.
To see the complete graduation schedule for the School District of Palm Beach County, click here.
All of our other area school districts are also planning to hold in-person ceremonies.
For graduation information for the Martin County School District, click here.
For graduation information for St. Lucie Public Schools, click here.
A spokesperson for the School District of Indian River County told WPTV that "we are having normal graduations. Students will be given tickets for guests to attend, and masks will be required. Spectators will be socially distanced in the stands (by family) and students will be socially distanced on the field, taking up most of the field. When they cross the stage they will have an opportunity to remove their mask for pictures."
A spokesperson for the Okeechobee County School District said "we will have an in-person graduation, may 28th, similar to last may. We still have to determine how many tickets we will issue for the venue. Should decide that shortly. Will broadcast and tape the ceremony for those who feel unsafe or cannot attend due to capacity."