Two CSRA counties held a very special day, in very different ways

Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 6:19 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Graduation started with three drive-through graduation ceremonies at Cross Creek, Davidson Fine Arts, and Glenn Hills high schools.

Graduates drove to their schools, picked up their diploma, snapped a picture, and left. But as easy as it was now, it certainly took a lot to get to this point.

From delayed graduation to protests outside the Board of Education offices -- it certainly was not smooth sailing to get to graduation day.

Reactions to the drive-thru graduations is definitely mixed as students drive up to the front entrance to get their diplomas.

Several students and parents News 12 spoke to said they feel the district could have safely held a ceremony outdoors on the schools’ football fields, especially since many Richmond County schools have still been holding sporting events.

The district says, their decision to cancel graduation was in the best interest of the students, and they said when they originally postponed graduation back in May, they had hoped the virus numbers would be a lot better by this point.

“We heard from students, family members, community members that we could have or should have done something different. But when we talked to the public health officials, when we looked at the data,” said Lynthia Ross of the Richmond County School System. “We again know that when you bring people together, coronavirus spreads.”

Thankfully, students here seem to be making the most of their drive-thru graduations, but the way Richmond County is handling the pandemic is extremely different from the way Columbia County handled it -- causing some confusion among students and families on both sides of the county line.

It’s a tale of two counties, right next door -- but still so different.

For Columbia County students, prom, graduation, and a start date almost a month earlier than Richmond County’s.

“I’m hoping that by starting school later, it will give an opportunity for the virus to maybe die down some and we can have better decisions about being in the classroom,” Robert Jackson, a teacher at Cross Creek High School, said.

But it was that waiting game that led Richmond County to these drive-thru graduations.

“Me and my mom, we had this ongoing thing about it kind of being like McDonald’s,” said Camille Rogers, salutatorian at Cross Creek High School. “I really think Richmond County was trying to hope for the best whenever they waited. I feel like they should have just went ahead and did it whenever Columbia County did it.”

Columbia County seniors graduated in late May. But Richmond County officials say holding outdoor ceremonies wasn’t realistic for a county of their size.

“When you bring people together, with the number of high schools that we have and the number of graduations that we would have, with the number of graduates and their families at each graduation, it was just not a risk that we were willing to take,” Ross said.

Columbia County seniors also celebrated prom on Saturday.

“We just did not want to be part of adding that additional risk or adding to the increase in our community,” Ross said.

“It was just the very wise decision to make not to have prom this year,” Jackson said.

Two counties, with two different outcomes, but seniors Rogers are just making the most of it.

“we’re going to do great. We’ve made it through this, we’ve got life down pat,” she said.

Another point of contention was that Richmond County still held cheerleading tryouts and football practices but wouldn’t have traditional graduation. The district told News 12 that decisions about sports comes from the guidance of the Georgia High School Association.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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