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Okaloosa Begins Virtual Graduation, In-Person Ceremonies In July

Okaloosa County School District



The Okaloosa County School District has solidified plans for honoring its graduating seniors. True walk-across-the-stage ceremonies are set for July. In addition, starting today (Thurs), the taping begins on a professionally produced video for each senior.


Okaloosa Superintendent Marcus Chambers, like his neighboring colleagues, pledged from the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak to do something special for his Class of 2020.


In trying to come up with a graduation game plan during these unprecedented times, the district sought their feedback.


“You know, we had a lot of conversations first with principals, but, then we surveyed our seniors and senior parents,” said Chambers. “We had about 1,600 responses, where - it probably doesn’t shock you - about 83% of them wanted a graduation of some sort on school campuses where they could walk across a stage.”


First, as a bit of insurance, the district is launching production of a virtual graduation.


“This week, we have speeches that are being recorded, the national anthem is being recorded, and we have students who are coming up to the school at specified times to ensure we social distance,” Chambers said of the process.


“We have students coming up to the schools at specified times where they will walk across the stage. It’ll all be videoed and we have production companies who’re actually going to put it all together into an overall video.”


Credit Okaloosa County School District
Okaloosa County School District
Ashten Morrison, Baker High School Class of 2020.

The videotaping will begin today (Thursday) at Baker School and Laurel Hill High School and will continue through next week.


 With the video, the district has the option of making the graduation available online. Additionally, it will be distributed to each of the seniors as a keepsake.


But, based on the survey, what the seniors really want is that traditional commencement experience. Unless ordered otherwise, Chambers says they’ll get that, too, but with some adjustments due to COVID-19.


“The week of July 14-18, in smaller groups right now is what we’re planning for. For example, maybe in groups of 75 students and each student might get two tickets and their families will be a part of the graduation, small-group fashion,” he said.


If CDC guidelines loosen, the district plans to raise the number of students that can graduate at one time and even the amount of invites that each student would get.


Additionally, Chambers says the middle of summer weather will play a factor in what type of event will be held at each of the schools.


“Depending on the heat in July, we will either have an outdoor event, where it’s on the football fields, like normal, or depending, it will be inside,” Chambers explained. “So, if it’s inside, we’ll have less kids that we’d be able to graduate at one time. So, the schools are still working through that particular time period.”


According to the superintendent, the schools are scheduled to begin their in-person graduation ceremonies on Thursday, July 14, with the sessions to continue as needed for larger schools, such as Niceville and Crestview, through Saturday, July 18.


The key to the 2020 commencement exercises is coordination with the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa and Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley, to ensure adherence to CDC guidelines. 

Credit Okaloosa County School District
Baker School Principal, Mike Martello poses with the school's mascot.

“You know, an interesting tidbit about this senior class is they were born during the 9-11 time period and now they’re graduating during the coronavirus,” Chambers observed. “So, this is a very strong and resilient group.”


Chambers says their goal is to provide an uplifting conclusion to what has been a very challenging school year and give this group of seniors the best graduation they possibly can.


Meantime, the Escambia and Santa Rosa County School Districts have reserved the Pensacola Bay Center for three potential dates in June and July.


Pending approval by state and local authorities, Escambia could hold graduation ceremonies on June 23 and 24, July 14 and 15, or July 27 and 28.


Santa Rosa’s Bay Center options are June 19 and 20, July 16 and 17, or July 29 and 30. Separate dates for Jay, Central and Milton high schools.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.