COMMENCEMENT: SISD, DISD see return of traditional ceremonies

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
The Denison High School class of 2020 lines up during graduation ceremonies. Officials with DISD and SISD plan to move forward with traditional ceremonies.

With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic a year behind them, the Sherman and Denison Independent School districts are ready to move forward with some level of normalcy. Both districts have announced plans for commencement, which will feature traditional ceremonies with safety and health guidelines in place.

Both districts modified plans for graduation ceremonies last year during the early days of the pandemic. Now a year later, both districts have said the graduating class needs a return to normalcy and tradition.

"Graduation is such a memorable time — It is a special time," SISD Communications Director Kimberly Simpson said. "It is something that parents, teachers, students and staff all look forward to.

"It is an experience you have really for closing your K-12 school career. It is a celebration and we want to provide that celebration to our students."

Sherman High School will hold its commencement at 7 p.m. May 28 at Bearcat Stadium with public health and social distancing recommendations in place.

Last year, the district split its ceremony into four smaller ceremonies to both spread out and limit crowd sizes. This year, the ceremony will be one single event with all students at once. The event will feature speeches by the valedictorian and salutatorian, class president and principal.

"Obviously last year was such a unique time. We were in the middle of the pandemic and wanted to honor the traditions of having a traditional ceremony," Simpson said. "So last year, we split things up and had four graduation ceremonies to give our students the chance to graduate in a traditional format."

SHS 2020 graduation ceremonies included social distancing and safety guidelines that lead to a very different event from previous years.

The decision to go back to a traditional ceremony comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Grayson County has been on the decline.  Likewise, there has been an increased interest in a traditional ceremony, Simpson said.

Students will still be required to wear masks, and friends and family in the audience will be asked to do the same. Each student will be given a total of five tickets for the event. However, Simpson said the event is still a month out, and the situation could change over the coming weeks.

"Things are changing weekly with the number of active cases in Grayson County," she said. "So, if we feel cases are in a downturn and cases are looking positive with regard to us not having to limit so much, we will make those changes."

The COVID-19 precautions of 2020 did have one silver lining. Upon positive response from families, the district will have commencement in the evening. Simpson said many families appreciated the evening schedule which allowed for cooler temperatures.

Despite this return to normality for the graduating class, there are some aspects of the past school year that were not normal. A fair number of the students who will cross the stage in May never stepped into the classroom physically this year and instead studied through distance learning.

DISD Superintendent Henry Scott said about 50 seniors — the most of any other grade in Denison —  spent the entire year learning remotely. Still, he hopes for a full return to normal life in August with potential plans to move fully to in-person learning.

"Somehow, we need to get back to a sense of normal," he said. "Hopefully we get enough people vaccinated between now and August and it won't be an issue."

Denison will have a single commencement ceremony at 8:30 p.m. May 22. Like Sherman, COVID-19 precautions will be in place and students will need to wear masks. 

City Council Member Brian Hander will be the keynote speaker for the event.

Denison held a single graduation ceremony in 2020, but significantly limited attendance at Munson Stadium. These restrictions will not be in place this year, but families are still encouraged to socially distance.

Like Sherman, DISD students are looking for that return to normality, and a part of that is  keeping a traditional graduation.

"I just think that people are exhausted and feel that we should get back to some sense of normal," he said.