Graduations will still look more like 2020 than 2019
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
A year ago, Darlington High School salutatorian Gabriel Howle – wearing cap, gown and face mask – stood before his fellow graduating seniors in the Class of 2020. “So, this isn’t how this was supposed to happen, was it?” he asked during graduation ceremonies held at the school’s football stadium to lessen COVID-19 risks. “We all thought that finally, after four long years, there would be some sort of grand payoff,” Howle said. “But alas, one sick bat had to throw everything out of place.” (The prevailing theory at the time was that COVID began with cave bats in China.) “Now look at us,” Howle said. “Socially awkward, wearing masks of all colors and sizes, and frequently asking ourselves – do we have enough toilet paper?” That was how the Darlington County School District had to conduct graduations last year – outside, with everyone socially distanced and masked, and with students allowed only a couple of guests. This year, it will look much the same. The June 11 graduations will be conducted outdoors again for COVID safety. But the mood likely will be more relaxed, and as of this writing, it wasn’t clear if all students would be required to wear face masks now that Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order making masks optional in S.C. public schools. It’s for certain there will be more family members at the ceremonies; DCSD officials were planning to allow each senior to bring several guests. Last year, COVID cautions more or less controlled how Darlington County graduations were conducted. This year, the school district remains on COVID alert – the county school board routinely wears face masks when conducting meetings — but the public’s fear of the virus has fallen dramatically as new cases in the county and state have dropped and as COVID vaccines have been available to virtually anyone. Until COVID, indoor graduations were typical for Darlington County public schools. In 2019, for example, Darlington High School held its graduation at the Florence Center. Other sites for past graduations have included the Hartsville High School Arena and the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology at Florence-Darlington Technical College.