Violet and Jasper Ayers peeked over and under signs made from posterboard Saturday afternoon, May 23, in Hartwell in eager anticipation for the arrival of their cousin, Emma Ayers.
Emma Ayers is a member of the Hart County High School Class of 2020, and Violet, 6, and Jasper, 4, could not wait to see her drive by on Campbell Street in the Parade of Graduates.
“Emma’s my cousin,” Violet said excitedly as cars carrying recent graduates began filing out of the high school parking lot and toward Franklin Street on their way eventually to the parking lot of the Bells Shopping Center.
Their excitement was matched by the family and friends who lined the street to cheer on the Class of 2020 and the graduates alike. The parade was the first of its kind and was organized as a way to recognize the roughly 230 graduates who were unable to walk in a traditional graduation ceremony last week because of restrictions on large gatherings due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I hate what happened to them,” said Emma Ayers’ great aunt, Phyllis Ayers. “But this is great.”
That sentiment was shared by graduates like Maria Rangel. Rangel and her family members hung a banner across the back of the Ford F150 she rode in prior to the parade while wearing her cap and gown.
“We weren’t prepared for all this,” Rangel said, referring to schools being closed and finishing her high school career remotely. “It wasn’t what we expected.”
But through it all, Rangel said the Class of 2020 bonded.
“It’s really sweet the way we all got closer through all this,” she said.
For Kendra Argo, the entire situation was still difficult to believe.
“It’s just really crazy,” she said.
But the effort from the community to recognize the graduates was noteworthy, Argo added.
“I like how they did something for us, since we couldn’t walk,” she said.
Regardless of how, or when, the gradates were recognized, the fact that high school was complete was still the most important part of Saturday’s festivities for many in the Class of 2020.
Looking back at his years as a Bulldog, Quay Randolph had fond memories.
“I had fun,” he said of his high school days. “I enjoyed it a lot.”
The parade of graduates capped off more than a week of recognitions for the Class of 2020 that included virtual awards night, a slide show of seniors posted on social media and more.
An in-person, traditional graduation ceremony is planned for 9 a.m., Saturday July 18, at Herndon Stadium on campus at Hart County High School. Graduation practice will be at 10 a.m., Friday, July 17, also at the stadium. Those dates are pending and may change based on guidance from state and local officials on when larger gatherings are again permissible.