When Gov. Ralph Northam in March ordered the closure of Virginia’s K-12 schools to lessen the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, Charlottesville High School graduating senior Minuette Goin said she thought that would give her the freedom to relax and not worry about assignments.
But then reality hit pretty quickly because she realized she might not be able to say goodbye to friends she has known since she was 5.
“It just sucked,” said 18-year-old Goin, an aspiring teacher who plans to attend Mary Baldwin University, adding that “It is what it is. We just have to make the best out of the situation.”
But Charlottesville High School didn’t want to send its nearly 280 graduating seniors into the real world without a proper celebration.
The school hosted a two-day special graduation that began on Thursday. Friday’s ceremony included school officials cheering on students and parents’ cars as they drove up to the parking lot, stopped at a mural dedicated for them to take pictures and then a selfie station for them to take pictures with the school mascot.
And then, one by one, parents pulled up in front of CHS and watched their children walk to a stage set up in front of the school as their names were called to get their diploma.
“It’s kind of heartwarming,” Goin said of the graduation. “It’s disappointing that we didn’t get a graduation graduation, but the fact that the teachers did all of this for us really makes the last four years spent here special.”
Goin had the opportunity to see her friends, stressing that even though she couldn’t go up to them, it was better than nothing.
Listing some of the things she will miss about her alma mater, Goin said she has appreciated the school community and diversity.
“One of the things that makes CHS special is diversity,” she said. “You get that awareness before you go out to the world, so you have some skills. You don’t go out in the world and say, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do. I’ve never been [around] people who don’t look like me.’ I feel like diversity is what makes us CHS.”
During her time at CHS, she said the staff showed her they would be there for her if she needed something — and seeing principal Eric Izarry for the last time was bittersweet.
“We’re his first graduating class. He came in: He was new our freshman year,” Goin said. “He’s watched all of us grow up. I was never close to him, [but] I respected him. I knew if I needed anything, I could go to him.”
The pandemic has proven to her how much Izarry cares about CHS students, she said.
“We’re his kids, … and I think it’s pretty cool,” Goin explained.
Izarry said although he couldn’t host a traditional graduation, he still wanted to recognize his students — the best way to do that was to bring them back to the school safely and get them a moment on the stage.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Izarry, who added that being a principal is the best job in the world, but it has been different since the pandemic. “I normally see the kids. I see my faculty. I see them every day. We interact a lot. [But] lately, it’s been a lot of virtual meetings.”
Special graduation ceremonies also appeared in the county. At Monticello High School on Saturday, graduating senior Sarah Linebrink said that at one point, she thought that the school was going to simply mail the diplomas to students. She was excited when she learned the school would have some sort of graduation ceremony, she said.
On graduation day, she brought her dad and her dad’s girlfriend, her older sister and brother. Later that day, they had plans to go to a restaurant in Scottville to celebrate.
While attending MHS, there were several things she appreciated, including the school’s size, which allowed her to get to know students, and the opportunity to sing the national anthem with the school’s choir at football games.
Linebrink said she was satisfied with the school’s process to hand out diplomas to students.
“I understood why [the school] shut down,” she said because if it remained open, that would put people at risk of getting sick and spread the virus to the community.
Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.