Less than a quarter of Mississippi high schools will host traditional graduation ceremonies

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Courtney Webster receives her diploma at during Greenville High School’s graduation Thursday, May 21, 2020.

COVID-19 closed schools across Mississippi and the nation, and left districts scrambling to figure out how to plan one of the most memorable events for high school seniors: graduation.

Mississippi Today reached out to all of the 233 public high schools in the state to ask what their graduation ceremony plans are. Respondents’ plans, if they have any, fall into one of three categories. Traditional ceremonies will have graduates walk the stage to receive their diploma while following social distancing measures. Virtual-only ceremonies can only be viewed via live stream or by video. In-person, non-traditional ceremonies are an abbreviated version of a graduation ceremony including, but not limited to: drive-thrus, parades, and movie drive-up graduations.

As of June 2, almost 16 percent of schools did not respond to Mississippi Today’s request or had no information on their websites or social media pages. About a third will hold in-person, non-traditional ceremonies. Less than a quarter of schools will hold traditional ceremonies. Almost 20 percent indicated they were planning to host a graduation ceremony but did not provide specific details, and 17 percent of respondents plan to hold virtual-only ceremonies.

In late May, the Mississippi Department of Education provided guidance to school districts including that outdoor traditional ceremonies should have no more than 100 people present, and 50 present for indoor ceremonies. These types of ceremonies come with increased risk and “are strongly discouraged and should not occur in counties with higher levels of transmission,” the department wrote.

Additionally, some districts will hold multiple types of ceremonies at later dates. For example, East Webster High School conducted a virtual ceremony on May 17. However, the school plans to have a formal, traditional graduation ceremony on July 19.

As a way to celebrate the Class of 2020, Mississippi Today created a landing page to share their stories on how the coronavirus pandemic interrupted their final moments of senior year.