First group of seniors graduates in socially distant ceremony

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  • Valedictorian William Gibson smiles as his father takes his picture before graduation. Gibson had a 101.55 numeric grade average.

  • Surrounded by his family, Dru Hines prepares to have graduation pictures taken by a Holland Studio photographer. Hines graduated with special distinction June 9 in a ceremony that followed CDC guidelines.

  • Salutatorian Destiny Pettis wipes away tears during her graduation speech. Pettis’s overall average was 100.6.

In the wake of heavy rains from Tropical Storm Cristobal, the Top 10 members of the CHHS Class of 2020 received their diplomas June 9. The 10 a.m. ceremony was the first of 23 commencement exercises held under CDC guidelines because of COVID-19, meaning a limited number of people could be in the building for graduation.

“A local pandemic, a tropical storm, nothing can stop this class,” Principal Doug Payne told seniors and their families in the gym, where they watched a slideshow and had their pictures taken before walking to the PAC for the ceremony. “As you can see, this graduation is unique, like no other at Center Hill.”

CHHS’s graduation ceremony was originally scheduled for May 23 at the Landers Center. After buildings were closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year to slow the spread of the coronavirus, senior class officer Kennedi Evans had hoped to still have a traditional graduation ceremony later in the summer.

She changed her mind because some of her friends are going into the military and would not be available for a postponed ceremony.

“I think it’s better to do it now because I know a couple of people who are going into the National Guard and I want everybody to be able to participate,” she said.

Evans addressed her fellow graduates, along with salutatorian Destiny Pettis, valedictorian William Gibson, and DeSoto County Schools Superintendent Cory Uselton.

Uselton told the seniors they have so much to be proud of.

“Focus on the positives and not let any day go to waste,” he said. “God bless and go Mustangs!”

At the end of the ceremony before the first group of graduates threw their caps in the air, Payne acknowledged the many roles the students had to take on because of the pandemic, including babysitting younger siblings, cooking for family, being therapists to friends in need, and perfecting their TikTok dances.

“What I see looking back is the Class of 2020 strong,” he said.

The rest of the socially distant ceremonies were from 4-8 p.m. June 9 and again June 11. In all, there are 244 seniors in the CHHS Class of 2020. Danielle Brown, 11th- and 12th-grade counselor, said 10 seniors opted out of a graduation ceremony for various reasons, including vacation, military service or for their own safety.