When it comes to custom class rings, graduation products and yearbooks, Jostens is a familiar name that provides graduation memorabilia for graduating seniors.
When it comes to custom class rings, graduation products and yearbooks, Jostens is a familiar name that provides graduation memorabilia for graduating seniors. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, school officials are having to innovate their 2020 graduation ceremonies, with many postponed until they can safely think of a way to do so.
Randy Williams, a Jostens Representative for many schools in the state of Arkansas, said over spring break when it was announced that the schools weren’t going to reopen, he knew he had to think of something to still commemorate Arkansas seniors in a safe way.
”There are so many people who have siblings with pictures of themselves in their cap and gowns on a wall,” said Williams. “Gap and Gown is a symbol of achievement and it’s something that each and every senior should have their picture made in and should get a chance to be celebrated.”
Williams said in order to get them out while keeping safety in mind, he came up with the idea to do a curbside distribution.
“It was over spring break and some of the superintendents, I had their personal cell phones and I just called them and said what do you think and they said absolutely, go for it,” said Williams.
Williams said he immediately got with his team and started the curbside distribution which included Pine Bluff High School, Watson Chapel and many other schools in southeast and central Arkansas.
Watson Chapel High School Principal Henry Webb Sr. said he was excited to partner up as the Watson Chapel School District made plans for a “Senior Send-off and Parade” for the graduating class of 2020, which took place on Friday.
“Since they were going to get their caps and gowns today I said let’s make it special for them and do a parade so they can be highlighted,” said Webb. “It doesn’t take the place of a graduation, this just lets the student know we haven’t forgot about them.”
Seniors, along with their families, decorated their vehicles and lined up on campus.
They caravanned down Camden Road and back to the high school where they received their cap and gown. Some parents rode with their kids in tears, stating they were heartbroken but at the same time very grateful.
At the conclusion of the parade, seniors put on their cap and gown, and one by one, took a commemorative photo.
Lakeisha Ferrell, the mother of senior Terrick Robison, was very emotional while decorating the car her son would be driving in the parade. Ferrell said she was a little disheartened but understood because of the circumstances, graduation would have to be done this way.
“Terrick didn’t have a kindergarten graduation. He didn’t have a 6th grade graduation so this is his very first graduation from school,” said Ferrell.
Robinson, who will be attending Southern State University, said he was just thankful that they were even thought about.
“Even though we are not having a regular graduation, it’s still a blessing to be able to do some type of event,” said Robinson.
Ferrell added the coronavirus impacted her son’s chances for exposure during football tryouts but is still thankful at the opportunities he was given before the pandemic altered the world of sports.
“I didn’t get a chance to go tryout for Delta State but I did get to try out for SAU and I made the team,” said Robinson.
Ferrell wasn’t the only proud parent as many came out to support their graduating senior along the parade route, cheering loudly and displaying congratulatory signs.
Teachers, faculty and staff also cheered the seniors as they received their cap and gown and other memorabilia from Williams and Watson Chapel School District Superintendent, Jerry Guess. At the conclusion of the parade, seniors excitedly exited their vehicles in their cap and gown for a photo op with a diploma.
“This class is really special because they were born in the shadow of 9/11 and now they graduate during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Williams. “At Jostens, we are just going to do anything we can to help celebrate them. They deserve it. This is a symbol of their achievement.”
Jostens also offers a Virtual Commencement Center designed for high schools and college markets to help execute a virtual graduation event for their seniors.
“At Jostens we believe every graduate deserves to be celebrated, especially this year,” said John Bibeault, Vice President and General Manager of Jostens Scholastic division in a release. “We work with principals all over the country who are managing school safety and closures related to COVID-19, and they’re looking for resources to help plan and execute a commencement ceremony virtually if need be. The tools we’ve developed, and are offering at no cost to them, will help them do that in a safe, celebratory way.”