A community of Family, Fort Campbell High School faculty and staff, friends and Army leadership lined the streets May 16 cheering the FCHS Class of 2020 as the seniors drove by in their decorated vehicles.
The FCHS faculty and staff partnered with Fort Campbell leadership to make a graduation parade happen. Students and their Families decorated their vehicles and began the trek across post at division parade field.
The parade of graduating seniors, lead by Fort Campbell Police and FCHS Principal Kim Butts, wound through post, past the high school and circled back to FCHS at Cole Park Commons.
“I’m really grateful our school was able to do this for us,” said graduating senior Caterina Martineau. “I’m also really excited to be able to see everyone after not seeing anyone since March 13. It has been months since we were all together and it feels different, and I’m glad we had the support from the community. It shows how even in times like this we can still find a way to come together and celebrate the small and big things.”
FCHS faculty and staff worked hard to make the parade a reality, but the best part was celebrating the graduating students, said Stacy Daniels, FCHS guidance counselor.
“It was nice to do this for them, it made them so happy and you could see it on their faces,” said Angie Pagan, FCHS Spanish teacher. “I’ve missed them, it’s not the same. You don’t have the human touch, and that is why we are here and why we do what we do. They need to be recognized, you don’t spend 12 years of school for nothing. It’s a rite of passage and they deserve to be celebrated.”
The parade provided a feeling of closure, an endcap to an unusual year.
“This is as close as we can get,” said Erin Crossan, FCHS English teacher. “Usually you can high five them and hug them. We may never seem them again. It’s a little bit hard, but I’m really glad we were able to do this. It would have felt like they just disappeared, now there is a feeling of finality. You saw them in the hall every day, even if they weren’t your student. So, this was a way to say goodbye and see them one last time.”
Youlanda Washington, Kentucky Community Superintendent responsible for the Fort Campbell and Fort Knox Schools, came to the parade to say goodbye to the graduating class as well.
“It was great to see a ray of hope for the future, they all exhibited hope on their faces, and I was glad to see it,” Washington said. “This break from the traditional way of holding graduation and celebration has provided a new approach for our children. They will forever remember 2020 as being the year they excelled to greatness. We have great leaders coming out of this 2020 class, and I think most of them will be able to remember this time and think ‘we made it through’ and become even better future leaders of our country because of it.”
Washington, who is retiring this year, said she is grateful for a chance to say goodbye to her last graduating class of seniors.
“After I saw the beginning of the parade and I saw the first carloads come through, I did get teary-eyed,” she said. “I’ve seen so many of these students walk through the hallways and I could not reach out and hug them like I normally do. I teared up from thinking this is the last class I will see as their community superintendent, and I felt honored to be able to see them off.”
Washington thanked Fort Campbell leadership for supporting the schools during this time.
“They helped make it an elegant event for us, and they have been so supportive of Principal Butts and the high school with anything they needed this year,” she said.
Many of the FCHS faculty and staff members as well as Family members also had tears of joy as they watched the parade go by.
“I had tears running down my face, I just love these kids and I’ve missed them,” Daniels said. “We didn’t know our last day of being in school was our last day, so this was a beautiful thing to be able to see them.”
FCHS faculty and staff have made an extra effort to recognize and celebrate the Class of 2020 on social media.
“I loved hearing all of the cheers for them,” Daniels said. “It is important for us to celebrate this class on social media because their Families are so widespread. This is a time when Families can’t travel to make these large celebrations, so we wanted to celebrate them in a way everyone could see.”
In the future, Daniels said the FCHS faculty and staff hopes to combine some of the new ways they celebrated the graduating class this year with the more traditional graduation celebrations including formal commencement.
“I hope we can go back to a traditional ceremony, but I love the added features we’ve started, like the parade and the flamingos and the signage,” Daniels said. “I hope we can use what we’ve learned to develop an even greater celebration for our kids in the future.”
The day closed with a virtual graduation video posted on the school’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dodeafortcampbellhs/.