Saturday marked the 144th annual commencement ceremony for seniors at Rutherford B. Hayes High School and was the first ceremony of its kind in the school’s history.
This year, the ceremony was not held in the stadium but instead took place outside the Pacer doors on the school’s west side. The drive-thru graduation ceremony began at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, where seniors and their families gathered in one vehicle per family. From there, a large procession of vehicles traveled to the high school, where each senior exited the vehicle, heard his or her named announced, proceeded to the doors to accept their diploma, and then gave Principal Ric Stranges an elbow bump.
After sharing a moment with their principal, each graduate had their photo taken with their diploma before hopping back into their car and heading to the front of the school, where families were encouraged to take pictures to celebrate the occasion.
Stranges spearheaded the idea for the ceremony after the traditional graduation ceremony and the backup ceremony date were both canceled due to COVID-19. Stranges said he organized the ceremony with safety as the top priority and coordinated with local health and safety officials to ensure the the ceremony was as safe as possible.
Before the procession started, senior Mary Grace Duffy gave a speech in the stadium and thanked everyone who made the ceremony possible.
“I’d like to give a special thank you to our faculty and staff, and our entire community who contributed to bringing us here today,” Duffy said. “This ceremony serves as a bridge to our future. It allows us to come together to commemorate our individual achievements and remember who we are as the class of 2020, despite the divide that has separated us this spring.”
Duffy said community has been one of the important parts of her time in the Delaware City School District.
“Today is a testament to the strength our of Delaware community and the value we place on the traditions that unite us,” Duffy said. “I have always thought of school as a gathering place. Here, were are a community within a community. Many of us grew up in the same neighborhoods and attended the same elementary schools. With every transition, our community was there to help us bridge the gap to the next step with their support and love.”
Duffy said seniors can look forward to new chapters in their lives, but they will remain united by their Delaware experiences.
“When we left these doors in March, we left much or ourselves behind in an abrupt and unexpected way,” Duffy said. “As we begin a new chapter in our lives, regardless of where we go, how far from Delaware we go, this community will continue to unite us. Now we are sharing a tradition that, while practiced differently in past years, is no less a celebration of our belonging today. Maybe more so because of the efforts of those who built the bridges to make this day possible.”
After the ceremony, Superintendent Heidi Kegley thanked the community for supporting the nontraditional ceremony.
“We are so grateful to the entire Delaware community for helping us plan and create a safe and memorable graduation for our 2020 Hayes graduates,” Kegley said in an email Sunday. “Thank you to our families and our graduates for being truly amazing! We are so proud of our 2020 Hayes graduates!”
Stranges, who handed out every diploma and wished every student well Saturday, said he’s glad the ceremony was a success.
“Although it was not our typical Hayes commencement ceremony, our collective efforts helped to celebrate the tremendous class of 2020 in a very different, joyful, grateful and memorable way,” Stranges said in an email Monday. “To see the smiles on our graduate’s faces, surrounded by their families and our staff, reinforced our sense of community and pride that will stay with me for many years to come.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.