Hays High School plans to have an in-person graduation ceremony on July 25, while Thomas More Prep-Marian hopes to also have a similar commencement this summer.
Hays High Principal Marty Straub said earlier this week some of the details have yet to be worked out. He added there was a commitment to honor graduates who had their senior year interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down classroom teaching and other activities.
"We are just so hopeful we can pull this off," said Straub, who notified seniors by email on April 16 of the date for commencement. "There is a lot of frustration, disappointment in their lives, I’m sure, but they’ve been very respectful and open to other ideas. I think they just want their day."
Just where that day will be at is unsure at this point. Typically, Hays High holds commencement at Fort Hays State University’s Gross Memorial Coliseum. HHS has been in touch with FHSU and hopes to hear back next week. Straub said a morning commencement is the plan, but he has been told GMC is usually warm from morning to night in the summer. Straub said another option might be to hold the ceremony outside at Lewis Field Stadium. If a location at Fort Hays does not work out, HHS would hold graduation at the Hays High gym, which is air-conditioned.
Between 175 and 180 seniors are scheduled to graduate this year. Last year, with a similar number of graduates, Straub estimated there were about 4,000 people in attendance. If the ceremony is held at HHS, attendance would be limited.
"We’re really hopeful to make it where anybody who wants to attend, can attend," Straub said. "I think it’s going to be a very popular event."
Straub added there was a reason for having commencement in late summer.
"Had we put it earlier there was concern about having to reschedule, maybe not even being able to do it," he said. "For me, personally, it’s important that it’s done right."
Senior Maddie Lohmeyer, student council executive president, said her classmates were appreciative of the administration’s efforts.
"I think it’s been kind of a relief that our administration is doing everything it can to give us the ceremony they think we deserve," she said. "It meant a lot to hear they truly care about the students’ best interest."
In addition to holding an in-person commencement, Project Graduation for the seniors that night would be at HHS.
"I think it’s going to be a whole different perspective compared to prior Project Graduations because we’re going to be that much more appreciative," Lohmeyer said, adding having a commencement would bring a sense of closure for the seniors.
"I think we’ve gained a greater appreciation," Lohmeyer said. "We’ve lost a lot but we also gained a lot from this experience."
TMP hopes to make an announcement by the second week of May about what kind of commencement experience graduating seniors will have. School officials met with parents online Wednesday night to further discuss graduation plans. Principal Chad Meitner said the school will proceed with two plans.
"There was a lot of support for setting a date for later in the summer, where Plan A is a traditional graduation but that we have a Plan B for a non-traditional graduation if social gathering restrictions are still in place," Meitner said. "We wouldn’t further postpone it at that point. We would pick a date and the goal would be a traditional graduation, but as we get closer if we realize that’s not possible we will do a non-traditional graduation. When we come out with our graduation date we will stick with that."
Meitner said a traditional commencement would be held at Al Billinger Fieldhouse, as in past years. There also is the hope that there would be Project Graduation that night for the seniors. Other activities, such as prom, also were discussed Wednesday night, but Meitner said commencement was the priority.
In addition, Meitner said there will be some type of recognition for graduates either on May 17, the scheduled commencement date, or the evening before.
The TMP Alumni Association will purchase yard signs for the 42 graduates and provide them for free to their families. Parents who have already purchased yard signs will be reimbursed.
Meitner said having a graduation ceremony is important.
"TMP-Marian has a long tradition of ceremony, and there’s a sense of sanctification that’s part of that and is so important," he said. "As Catholics, that’s a big part of our tradition, to have that ceremony. It helps finish off that journey these seniors have been on."