Photo mural honors area grads

By Samantha Lyles

In a normal year, high school seniors would be celebrating graduation with hugs, high-fives and parties. This, as we all know, is not a normal year, and the Class of 2020 will miss out on a lot of senior year traditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But thanks to the work and generosity of Darlington’s citizens and businesses, area grads have a photographic memorial dedicated in their honor.
“We had been seeing other towns putting up pictures of their high school seniors around town, on telephone poles and things like that. Brenda Tiller came to me with the idea and while we didn’t have the manpower to go around and put up hundreds of pictures on utility poles, I thought using this building might work,” says Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd.
The building in questions is a steel warehouse on East Broad Street boasting a long, uniform display space perfect for large-scale murals. Boyd had previously had the idea to display historical-themed pictures and banners on the building, so it seemed the perfect spot to stage an ersatz gallery of graduating seniors.
Boyd’s design team at Fitness World gathered photo submissions directly from students and their families, so many of the pictures on display look more playful and informal than the familiar “sit down and smile” senior portraits. Kids are seen mugging for selfies, modeling their robes and mortarboards, or showing off a favorite outfit. The assembled images convey a sense of resilience, a determination to enjoy their graduation and celebrate their accomplishments even during an unimaginably strange senior year.
Tiller scouted around for sponsors to help fund the project and a number of local businesses and individuals chipped in to share the roughly $3,000 cost of vinyl and printing. The 280-foot stretch of multiple 10x 12-foot banners will remain on display throughout the summer for the public to enjoy. An additional display featuring the DHS Girls Soccer team rounds out the display to around 300 feet.
Since the banners went up, the warehouse has become a popular destination for grads and their loved ones. Boyd says it means a lot to see folks sharing a happy moment at the mural.
“I was out here cutting grass on Saturday and people kept driving by and walking by and looking at it. We keep getting e-mails and texts from people about it, too. The principal at Mayo High (Arlene Thomas) called me the other day and said she was about to cry,” Boyd says. “I’m 55 years old now and I don’t remember a lot about graduation, but for them it is a major deal. This is a time that they worked for and looked forward to celebrating with their friends, and for pretty much everybody in the United States, it’s been taken from them … so I’m glad it’s made a good impact on them to see that they are recognized and people are thinking about them.”

Author: Stephan Drew

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