By Ruben Lowman
North Myrtle Beach seniors have the option to participate in an in-person graduation ceremony, including a group commencement that will take place on the high school football field. Students can choose between a socially-distanced group ceremony with up to two guests, or an individualized ceremony including eight of their loved ones.
The announcement came late last week, quickly following Horry County Schools’ confirmation that district principals would have the ability to choose how their graduations would be conducted.
HCS had initially stated that they would be holding virtual graduations for the Class of 2020 across the county, but parents and students flooded them with critical emails, calls and letters and the county changed their course.
One of those students who sent letters to the school board was North Myrtle Beach High School senior Paige Burke.
She wanted them to understand how important a moment graduation is in her life, and how detrimental it would have been to remove the traditional ceremonial aspect.
Burke, a member of The National Honor Society, described how painful it was to have her final year of high school taken away from her and other seniors by the coronavirus.
“Having the last part of senior year canceled really hurt,” she said. “Not only me but it hurt my class, as well. A lot of people were really close to each other and close to some of the teachers, so having it all end abruptly and not being able to say goodbye to any of them on a usual ‘last day’ of school really hurt.”
Charles Unger, a North Myrtle Beach senior who attended the Academy for Arts, Science and Technology the past two years, shared the same sentiment.
Unger, a member of the school lacrosse team, said that the worst parts of having his last year abruptly abbreviated were missing out on the prom and his final competitive season with the team. He said they were “the only things I was looking forward to” before graduating and majoring in culinary arts at Horry-Georgetown Technical College this fall.
He said that he was appreciative of the school board and NMBHS for altering their graduation plans and allowing seniors like him to choose how they would like to be honored. “I’m happy that the district got rid of virtual graduation and instead gave the students the power to pick how they’ll graduate.”
Burke expressed how she was surprised by the announcement of the in-person options, but that she was very pleased overall with the outcome.
“I feel a bit shocked, but extremely happy,” she said. “I think we all kind of expected a little bit of ‘false hope’ from the district and school board when it came to making a decision. But when they announced the new plans, I felt proud. It’s a really good feeling to be able to walk across the stage with my classmates even though it’s not the usual graduation ceremony!”
After waiting the past couple of weeks with bated breath, Unger and Burke are both relieved they can take part in a graduation that comes close to replicating the experience they have dreamed of since they were children. They are both selecting the group ceremony on the football field, as it gives them the opportunity to be honored with their friends and in front of their families.
Burke touchingly explained exactly why this moment was so important to her and her family.
“I especially wanted to walk because I have a terminally ill father and a brother whom both are my best friends, and they’ve both gone through so much the past few years that I just wanted to make them proud and have them see me walk.”
Like Unger she plans on attending HGTC this fall, majoring in criminology before transferring to Coastal Carolina and beginning her career as a crime scene investigator.
In-person graduations will be held on Tuesday, June 2, at the North Myrtle Beach High School. The group ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. on the football field, and the individual ceremonies will begin at noon inside the high school. Anyone who feels uncomfortable is not required to attend.