Commencement ceremonies move inside for RCSS; Almost 900 receive diplomas

Here was the message on graduation night outside Providence Grove High School, where members of the Class of 2022 received diplomas. (Bob Sutton/Randolph Record)

There was one last set of hurdles for members of the Class of 2022 in the Randolph County School System.

That was adjustments for commencement ceremonies Wednesday night. All of those activities were moved indoors as storms battered the area.

Nearly 900 graduates received from the six high schools holding events.

While RCSS officials attended various commencements, superintendent Stephen Gainey naturally was present at Southwestern Randolph. His daughter, Kaitlyn Gainey, was one of the graduates – and he handed his daughter the diploma during the ceremony.

Randleman welcomed 168 graduates, with the gym packed with guests and dozens of others viewing the ceremony on screens set up in the cafeteria and theater.

Gary Goss, a deputy with Randolph County Sherriff’s Department, said this was his first commencement assignment, but he said he could relate to what the graduates were going through. For his 1989 commencement when he graduated from Eastern Randolph, inclement weather forced that ceremony indoors as well.

At Providence Grove, where 143 were expected to receive diplomas, the word was delivered slightly after noon that the 8 p.m. ceremony would move inside.

Still, that didn’t prevent some wet attendees as a storm dumped plenty of rain on school grounds as spectators made their way toward the gym. Parking areas in front of the school were filled, with many choosing to park on grassy areas as well.

Art teacher Stephanie Soper has been at the school since it opened in 2008. She attended the first Providence Grove commencement in June 2009 and has been on hand for every version since then except for the rescheduled 2020 event during the height of the COVID pandemic.

“There has been a lot through the years that have moved indoors,” Soper said. “Sometimes it has been excruciatingly hot (outside for the ceremony).”

Each Providence Grove senior was given five tickets to distribute for the commencement in the gym. Many supporters watched a video stream in the nearby auditorium.

Eastern Randolph had 119 graduates, with the indoor event deemed a success by principal Susan Chappell.

“We set up both for outdoor and indoor,” Chappell said. “I didn’t want to risk anybody’s safety and to have everybody scrambling at the last minute. When we made the decision, everybody pitched in to help.”

The spectator overflow area was in the cafeteria, while others could view the live stream from home. Chappell said the indoor ceremonies offer the benefit of closer viewing and often better acoustics.

“We’re glad that we did make the move because at right about the time of the ceremony it was lightning like crazy,” said Jamie Smith, school secretary at Eastern Randolph. “That was a good decision by administrators.”

Trinity had 132 graduates for its indoor ceremony. Nearby Wheatmore had 155 graduates.

There was particular attention to the awarding of one of the Wheatmore diplomas. It went to the family of Brianna Robinson, who died in April.

“She met all the requirements,” principal Eric Johnson said.

A cap and gown were placed in her chair. Another student brother flowers for the setting.

It was a smaller-than-normal class for Wheatmore. Johnson said usually there are 180-190 graduates, but factors such as the impact from COVID-19 caused some students to not get back into the groove.

The indoor set-up worked well.

“Families seemed to appreciate the dry, cool, non-humid conditions,” Johnson said.

The Southwestern Randolph ceremony was clocked at a brisk 61 minutes. There were 172 graduates, marking a smaller senior class than several of those in recent years.

Here’s all that was left to the staging area at Randleman’s football stadium as commencement ceremonies were going on in the nearby high school gym. (Bob Sutton/Randolph Record)

First sergeant Kenneth Diaz, the instructor for Randleman’s JROTC program, received word shortly before 5 p.m. that the ceremony, which was set to begin at 7 p.m., would be shifted inside. That created a bit of a scramble for his eight students who were overseeing traffic control.

Instead of the festivities taking place in the football stadium, they were held in the high school gym.

“This is as orderly as we could get it,” Diaz said of the parking and traffic. “They made the move and our kids were ready. I’m definitely pleased with the outcome. This definitely could have been a lot worse.”

After a heavy rain, the sun came out for about the hour prior to the Randleman ceremony. Then at just about the time the commencement began, thunder rumbled and that was followed by more downpours, validating the decision to relocate the event.

By Bob Sutton