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Top, Park View Valedictorian Bethany Paige Walton walks through PVHS one last time as a student before receiving her diploma. Middle, Mike and Nancy Rowe of Clarksville (accompany their daughter, Bluestone Valedictorian Victoria Rowe as she makes her final walk through the building Saturday to receive her diploma. Above left, Park View Salutatorian Ethan Hawthorne Stanley delivers his speech to the Class of 2020. Above right, Annelise Bailey delivers her commencement speech to members of the Class of 2020 who waited in vehicles before taking their turn to go through the school. (David Conner II photos) / June 03, 2020
High school graduation in Mecklenburg County got a fresh look Saturday as the coronavirus pandemic forced Bluestone and Park View to forego the traditional pomp and circumstance in favor of modified drive-thru ceremonies.

Nearly 300 graduates at Bluestone and Park View High Schools received their diplomas Saturday. Instead of walking across the stage in front of a room filled with family, friends and well-wishers, the departing seniors watched from cellphones and portable devices or listened to a live radio broadcast as classmates and school and county leaders shared messages of hope for the Class of 2020.

During ceremonies live streamed on YouTube, PVHS Principal Dominque Sturdifen and BHS Principal Magie Wilkerson congratulated the graduates on reaching a milestone in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted their final weeks of high school. Offering similar messages were Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols, School Board chairman Gavin Honeycutt and Board of Supervisors vice chairman Glanzy Spain.

Student speakers delivered their speeches as their classmates sat in cars listening and watching. At Bluestone, Valedictorian Victoria Rowe and Salutatorian Annelise Bailey spoke as part of the graduation program; at Park View, Valedictorian Bethany Paige Walton and Salutatorian Ethan Hawthorne Stanley offered their thoughts on the future.

Honeycutt predicted “a plethora of future accomplishments” among graduates he envisions as “historians, engineers, doctors, scientists, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, activists and so much more.” He encouraged them to pursue their passions and talents wholeheartedly, and said he was certain they would each be successful, whatever path they chose, because they are “capable and resilient.”

Speaking to the 161 members of Park View High School’s graduating class, Sturdifen said, “This journey was never easy, but you did not give up. I am proud to call you graduates. The Class of 2020 will be remembered for their resilience, determination, and strength. Go forth and make a difference in this world and never forget the place you call home. You are loved and always will be.

“I challenge you to dream big, work hard, and never, ever give up on your dreams,” she said. Quoting author A.A. Milne, Sturdifen asked the graduates to “Promise me you’ll always remember; You’re BRAVER than you believe, and STRONGER than you seem, and SMARTER than you think.”

At Bluestone, Wilkerson told the 136 graduates at BHS, “It has been my absolute pleasure to get to know you and work with you this school year. You are intelligent, creative, ambitious, humorous, and talented young men and women. Your future is very bright. During this pandemic, you have demonstrated strength and resilience that is to be admired, and characteristic of a Baron.

“As you move beyond Bluestone and pursue your goals, remember this year. I always encourage you to view setbacks and challenges as opportunities to grow and flourish. Continue to hold your heads high, Barons. Know we can endure hard times. More importantly, know you will do amazing things.”

Then one-by-one as each name was called, graduates got out of their cars and walked into the school building to retrieve their diploma off a table, without shaking anyone’s hand.

For the Class of 2020 who’ve missed proms and the chance to say goodbye in-person to their classmates, this once-in-a-lifetime moment was bittersweet. While Saturday’s ceremony may not have been the ending they’d envisioned to their high school years, the uniqueness of the event will be remembered for years to come.

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