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‘Keep washing those hands’ - Forsyth County gives high school graduates a virtual send-off
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Lambert High School senior Braxton Beaty is "presented" his diploma during Forsyth County Schools's virtual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (YouTube)

As their names were called, over 130 senior graduates in Forsyth County came not across a stage but a screen. The usual echoing cheers from family and friends were replaced by spirited congratulations with exclamation points and emoji in the comment section of the live YouTube video.

Chorus members stood 6 feet apart during a performance of “100 Years to Live.” Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden made his remarks from inside the Forsyth County Board of Education headquarters.

Almost everything about Tuesday’s virtual graduation ceremony was unprecedented. 

“I know this isn’t how you imagined graduation,” said North Forsyth High School’s Jessica Younghouse, the school system’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, during her pre-recorded speech.

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Members of area high school chorus groups sing -- while 6 feet apart -- during Forsyth County Schools's virtual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (YouTube)

Local high school graduation ceremonies would have been this week at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, but the novel coronavirus pandemic forced FCS to reschedule them for the end of July. Knowing some students may be off to college by then, the school system offered them a chance to celebrate with a graduation ceremony fit for the times.

“Pomp and Circumstance” played during the ceremony’s opening. West Forsyth senior class president Kevin Huang led the pledge of allegiance. Denmark senior class president Donnell Budjoe sang the national anthem. Then Dr. Bearden was introduced by Lambert senior class president Elena Lopez.

The class of 2020, Dr. Bearden said, had shown “hard work,” “perseverance” and “resiliency” in finishing their high school experience from home since mid-March. 

“These are the attributes … that will serve you the rest of your life,” he said.

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Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden speaks during Forsyth County Schools's virtual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (YouTube)

He also pointed to the work being done around the world to develop treatments and vaccines to curb the spread of a virus that has infected nearly 5.6 million and killed over 350,000 around the world. 

“We talk in our schools all the time about the importance of collaboration, creativity and problem solving,” Dr. Bearden said. “Today, we are seeing that in action all over the world.”

He finished by encouraging students to “keep working hard, take care of one another, love one another, and most importantly, keep washing those hands.”

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South Forsyth High School senior Rachel Atkeison is "presented" her diploma during Forsyth County Schools's virtual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (YouTube)

Bearden made the official conferment of diplomas. The graduates were named, one by one, all 132, from Denmark’s Ethan Afflick to Lambert’s Garison Zagorski. Each had a slide with their picture and a note about their future plans. South Forsyth senior class president Bryan Walker conducted the (virtual) turning of the tassel.

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South Forsyth High School senior Bryan Walker conducted the traditional turning of the tassel during Forsyth County Schools's virtual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (YouTube)

Finally, the principals from FCS’s six celebrating schools combined efforts to close the ceremony. They lauded the class of 2020 for their grit and implored graduates to come back to school and visit.

Then they left graduates with some of the most memorable refrains from the last four years.

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Forsyth County high school principals give remarks during Forsyth County Schools's virtual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. (YouTube)

“Once a Dane, always a Dane,” said Denmark’s Heather Gordy.

“Giddy up,” said Lambert’s Dr. Gary Davison,” and hook’em Horns.”

“I am West Forsyth,” said West Forsyth’s Karl Mercer. “We are family.”

Forsyth Central’s Mitch Young added, “Nothing good happens after midnight.”