School officials have been adamant about making sure seniors at Columbia and Fort White High still get the last big hurrah they’re owed, and now the dates have been set.
Belated prom and graduation events are scheduled for late July and early August, said Superintendent Lex Carswell. CHS is scheduled to hold prom July 30 and graduation Aug. 1, while Fort White High are set to have prom July 26 and graduation on July 31.
Students were dismayed to learn that prom and graduation were postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic, said CHS Principal Trey Hosford. The two milestone events are an important celebration, and it’s the last chance seniors have to properly say goodbye to some of the people with whom they’ve spent years growing and learning.
“I think it’s going to mean something to the kids to be able to come back to the campus and have another moment there to remember,” Hosford said. “With how things came to an abrupt end, I think they’ll appreciate another few hours on our campus.”
CHS traditionally holds prom at the Columbia County Fairgrounds, but this year, the dance will take place at the school’s gym.
“These last few months have been snatched away from them, so any chance to have them on campus — I want to do that,” Hosford said. “We’re going to make the gym beautiful for them.”
Several local businesses have volunteered to host prom on their properties, but Hosford said he wanted the party to be somewhere meaningful to the students.
“I thought they may enjoy being able to pull through those gates one more time, be with their classmates and just have a great night,” Hosford said.
In the past, prom has been free to seniors who sign up before the last minute, but students who wait too long have to buy a ticket, Hosford said. This year, not a single senior will have to pay to attend.
Prom is usually held on a Saturday, but July 30 is a Thursday.
It will be the last week before teachers report to duty for the new school year.
Administrators at both CHS and Fort White High wanted prom and graduation to be held close together.
“Both schools are going to try to make those several days all about the senior class,” Hosford said.
On Friday, July 31, CHS will hold graduation practice in the football field.
“We haven’t ironed out all the details, but we’ll have some kind of lunch or cookout for the senior class,” Hosford said. “And Saturday night would be the thing they’ve all been waiting for.”
On Aug. 1, seniors will don their caps and gowns to mark their first steps into the adult world. Some schools around the globe have held virtual graduation ceremonies or looked for some other alternative to the traditional ritual, but Hosford said he felt the students deserved the real thing.
“This virus has taken so much from the kids, so that’s one night I was willing to push back as far as we could to have it be normal for them,” he said. “I know they want to be there, their families want to be there, their friends want to be there.”
The school will follow any pandemic-related state or federal guidelines in place when the day rolls around, but has no extra protocols planned as of now, Hosford said.
“It’s so far out, we’re hoping that by then, we’ll be pretty much back to normal,” he said.
There’s always the possibility that prom and graduation will have to be delayed again, Hosford said.
“But if something were to change, we’ll adjust and we’ll still make it work with another date,” he said.
Not every senior will be able to make it for graduation. Some have enlisted in the military and won’t be around on Aug. 1.
For them, CHS has a special ceremony planned for May 26.
“It’s going to be small, and we’re still ironing out the details,” Hosford said. “But we did feel like we needed to do something for them — it’s the least we could do considering what they’re about to do for us.”
Fort White High Principal Keith Couey could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, but Carswell confirmed the dates for that school.
The week of May 18, Carswell will visit both schools to pose for photos with graduating seniors. Details are forthcoming.