Cap, gown and mask: Lake County holds in-person graduation ceremonies

Students expected to wear masks amid coronavirus concerns

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Lake County schools is holding the first in-person high school graduation ceremonies in the age of the coronavirus, although students are expected to wear masks.

Ceremonies are scheduled to take place Thursday for Lake Minneola, Mount Dora, and Lake Virtual.

Graduations for East Ridge, South Lake, Eustis, and Umatilla high schools are scheduled for Friday. Leesburg and Tavares high schools are holding ceremonies on Saturday.

The district is asking families to follow the following protocols:

  • SOCIAL DISTANCING: Guests will be seated by household with 6 feet of space between each family.
  • MASKS: Students will have masks provided to them. They will be expected to wear them during the ceremony, except for when they cross the stage and take their official photos. Guests are strongly encouraged to bring and wear masks. A limited number of masks will be available for those who need one.
  • SANITIZER: Students and guests are asked to bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer and use it frequently. Small quantities will be available at the schools for those who need some.
  • RESTROOMS: To help us avoid small-space gatherings, restrooms will be available for emergency use only. They will be cleaned frequently.
  • STAGGERED ARRIVALS/DISMISSALS: Student arrivals will be staggered so we can avoid large crowds at the gates. Students will be kept in small groups until the ceremonies begin. Dismissal of guests will be staggered as well.
  • CELEBRATIONS: Students and staff will be asked to avoid shaking hands and hugging during the ceremony, and no guests will be allowed on the field to mingle with the graduates.
  • HEALTH: Those who are sick or in a high-risk health category are respectfully asked not to attend. All of the ceremonies will be livestreamed so supporters can watch in real time.

School district officials said the graduation ceremonies are voluntary. Click here to watch live streams of the ceremonies.

Lake Minneola High School valedictorian Kevin Hereman spoke during Thursday morning’s ceremony.

“This year has taken a toll on us, but we’re built for this. Hawks do what they do, which is be great,” Hereman said.

Despite COVID-19 forcing students to finish the school year at home and miss out on special events, like prom and grad bash, the seniors said they thrived under the conditions.

Lake County school board member Bill Mathias said the district didn’t want them to miss out on their graduation.

“For us to be able to give them this day was extremely important for the school board and the superintendent,” Mathias said.

Last month Governor Ron DeSantis lifted restrictions on youth activities, allowing the district to host Central Florida’s first in-person graduation ceremonies during the pandemic.

Proud parents like Chantay Henderson said she is thankful she could celebrate her daughter’s accomplishments.

“When the kids work as hard as I think Sean did, I think they deserve to be recognized. This is something special,” Henderson said.

Sonia Rivera arrived early to the football stadium to get a front row seat. She said she was excited to see her daughter walk across the stage and earn her diploma.

“This is the reason why I get choked up because at least they have this, this moment,” Rivera said.

Other Central Florida school districts, including Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia, and Brevard counties are planning to hold graduations and events in July. Flagler County graduating seniors earned their diplomas last month and took a victory lap around the Daytona International Speedway.

About the Author:

Amanda Castro, a proud UCF alum, joined the News 6 team in November 2015 and was promoted to weekend morning anchor in April 2016. Go Knights!