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Hays High graduation set for Saturday outdoors

Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News
Marty Straub holds a diploma that will be given to graduating Hays High seniors. HHS graduation is set for Saturday in front of the school.

One high school graduation down, one to go.

Thomas More Prep-Marian High School held commencement earlier this month. Hays High School’s graduation is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, outside in front of the school.

About 175 graduates will receive their diplomas in the hour-long ceremony.

“Hopefully, it’s a good, joyous event for them,” Hays High principal Marty Straub said. “They sure deserve it. They missed out on a lot.”

Seniors from Hays High and TMP were not able to have graduation ceremonies in May because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Administrators from both schools exercised caution for the July commencements.

TMP graduated 41seniors on July 12 inside Al Billinger Fieldhouse. Seniors sat 6 feet apart and they, along with dignitaries on the platform, were required to wear face coverings. Those in attendance were required to wear masks as they entered and exited the gym and in the stair wells. Families were asked to sit 6 feet apart. The gym is not air conditioned, so fresh air was pumped inside with HVAC units instead of using recycled air inside.

“We felt if we had the distancing and the masks that we were doing what we should,” said TMP principal Chad Meitner, who added attendance was down from past years, from about 1,000 to 1,100 to about 400 or 500.

“It went fine,” Meitner said. “It wasn’t graduation as normal. It was definitely different.

“The feedback from the families was that it was a good event, were pleased that they were getting that sense of closure and an opportunity to celebrate the kids. I think it was a success in that regard.”

Seniors also had abbreviated after-graduation activities that night, which were slimmed down. It was called Project Graduation Lite.

“We had to modify that as well,” Meitner said. “We did it all outside, removed any games that would have them in close proximity. We just reduced it to watching the senior video. We watched it outside and gave them prize packages.”

The after-party was held on the TMP campus.

“They got a chance to celebrate, be together for a last photo,” Meitner said.

Hays High opted to have its commencement ceremony on campus after the usual location, Gross Memorial Coliseum, was unavailable because of the Fort Hays State University campus shutdown this summer. The student advisory committee was consulted, and it was decided to hold the ceremony outside, in front of the school.

Graduates will wear face coverings and be seated on the sidewalk. Masks will be made available for dignitaries on stage, if so desired. Spectator seating will be available in the parking lot; attendees are encouraged to bring their own seating arrangements in case they are needed. Straub said attendance is normally between 2,000 and 3,000 people. The Wild West Fest is lending use of about 2,500 chairs.

Tents will be rented to provide shade for parents, staff and attendees with special needs. The tents will remain in place for Project Graduation that night outside the school.

Sunny skies are forecast for Saturday, but in case of inclement weather the ceremony would be moved inside, to the Hays High gym, which seats a little under 1,400 for basketball games. Straub said seating would be limited in that event.

Mindful of the increase in coronavirus cases in the county, Straub is aware of necessary health precautions.

“People should be safe sitting in the parking lot,” Straub said. “I would imagine most families will sit together but maintain distance from other families.

“Hopefully, that will go well. We talked to the health department — they’re very happy we’re doing it outside. I think that’s the best way to do it.”

The commencement ceremony also will be livestreamed on YouTube. Search 2020 Hays High School Commencement. A link will also be available on the Hays High website.