There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that 2020 will be a year to remember, with the coronavirus. Thanks to staff members of both county high schools, business leaders and volunteers, Friday night for West Marion and Saturday night for East Marion, the class of 2020 experienced a night they will never forget.
For West Marion’s principal Gigi Dunaway, she began thinking of ways to give the students something special during Spring Break. However whatever she was contemplating in March was not what happened May 22, but the celebration was better than she could even have imagined.
“I just wanted every senior to feel special,” Dunaway said Thursday.
Dunaway said her word for the year was intentional and she felt like the school needed to be intentional in making the students feel celebrated and honored. She and Ryan Stringer, vice-principal, were receiving phone calls and text messages from parents worried about what the seniors are missing because of the pandemic.
In a meeting, Dunaway said it was decided to do senior banners and also get the future plans and quote from every senior. It was very important to everyone that each and every senior be recognized and celebrated. Working with Vicki Davis, interventionist at West Marion, began posting on the West Marion High School’s Facebook page, two seniors a day.
When it came to class recognition that was another item which needed to be celebrated. Yard signs were created for honor, special honors, salutatorian and valedictorian for each school. At East, those earning a sign were presented with the signs Saturday at their senior celebration. For West, Dunaway and Stringer mapped out directions and personally delivered to the students at their home yards recognizing them for their accomplishments.
Stringer said as more people became involved the idea evolved even more. Dunaway said they had a meeting of the minds with including Stringer, Davis, Chris Crawford, John Sabine, Nik Ingram and Cindy Newsome, principal of East Marion High School.
At first, the thought was to place the banners along U.S. 98 but that was a safety hazard. Thoughts about building at billboard were discussed for the banners. Stringer said as members of the group walked outside to look for a great location, it struck there was a huge wall right there on the school building they could use. Then it was trying to figure out how to place 72 banners on the wall and before long everyone was hoping in with ideas to make it work.
Discussions were held about parking and pretty soon staff members including coaches were all jumping on board to help.
Dunaway said it was hard sometimes because parents were wanting to know more information but they wanted to wow the students and parents so very little information was being shared.
The parents and students were surveyed and the results were the students wanted a traditional graduation where the students were walking across the field which will happen on June 26.
With the coronavirus wreaking havoc, the seniors this year have missed on things such as senior award night, vespers and the senior walk. That was why doing the celebration was so important, Dunaway said.
Dunaway said she was very thankful she had a team that did an outstanding job thinking outside of the box.
Dunaway said she discussed the plans with Superintendent Wendy Bracey. Dunaway said she did not Bracey could truly picture what was being planned, however she said Bracey knows her well enough to know every detail would be covered.
“What we did is far more than I ever dreamed of. That is what happens when you put great minds together,” Dunaway said.
Weather tried to mess things up both nights but even up until the time the program started on last Saturday for East Marion it was still raining. Newsome said she was concerned and she had been praying about it because she wanted the event to be very special for her students as well. Not long after they started recognizing the seniors, Newsome looked toward the eastern sky and caught sight of a rainbow, giving her the confirmation they were doing the right thing and the night would be great.
She said she felt so much pressure because of her desire of giving the seniors a wonderful night they deserved.
“It was such a great night. I have had positive feedback from my students and parents,” Newsome
Dunaway said a year from now, 20 years from now, she wanted the class of 2020 to remember that despite COVID-19, the class was honored and celebrated and would remember the event. A sentiment shared by Newsome as well.