May 27—After a long morning of graduation practice, a pertinent question remained. At what point do the graduates throw their hats in the air?
The question was shouted from a senior sitting in one of many seats lined up in the grass of Glynn County Stadium, where Brunswick High School's senior class will graduate tonight and Glynn Academy will host its graduation Friday.
Both ceremonies will take place at 8 p.m.
Casey Cason, senior class sponsor for the Class of 2021 at Brunswick High School, stood on the commencement stage at the end of rehearsal Wednesday and ran through the final reminders about the ceremony. The students had already practiced arriving, lining up and crossing the stage when their names were called to receive their diplomas and honors.
"Can we throw our hats in the air?" a student wondered aloud.
"That is up to you," Cason replied before reminding the students that both sides of the stadium's stands will be open for their guests to sit during the ceremony.
No seats will be reserved, and gates will open an hour and a half before the ceremony, she continued.
Graduation practices held this week were one of the final barriers that stood between the Class of 2021 and the completion of an eventful four years of high school.
The last year and a half of their high school experience was colored by the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed schools during spring of their junior year and transformed senior year into an academic experiment that balanced the challenges of a pandemic with the unceasing need to continue K-12 education.
"The graduating Class of 2021 has had to endure issues that no one would have imagined when they entered the ninth grade," said Scott Spence, superintendent of Glynn County Schools. "The pandemic, masks, COVID testing, exposure, quarantining, virtual learning, social distancing and societal issues are some of the obstacles that the Class of 2021 has had to hurdle.
"We are all extremely proud of this class for their determination to succeed under very difficult circumstances. Well done, Class of 2021."
Glynn Academy Principal Matthew Blackstone echoed Spence with his own congratulations for a class he's been close to since many of the students were in middle school.
"I was their principal at Glynn Middle School for a lot moving up," Blackstone said. "They started their ninth grade year with a solar eclipse and they ended it with COVID, and in between we had a hurricane that kept them out of school for an extended amount of time and then, of course, COVID cut their junior year short."
This group of students experienced many firsts, he added.
"I'm extremely proud of the hard work they've done in face of all of the adversity that they've had, and I look forward to all of the great things that this group is going to do in the future," Blackstone said.
Brunswick High Principal Slade Turner also witnessed the perseverance students displayed.
"No matter how rough the seas, the Pirate Class of 2021 kept sailing," Turner said. "While a number of schools across the state of Georgia and the nation were struggling to have any sort of meaningful instructional time, Glynn County Schools and Brunswick High School set out to continue the tradition of academic excellence. This class will forever be remembered as the class that refused to go down in the face of a storm."
Both schools will celebrate their valedictorians and salutatorians during graduation. Brunswick High's valedictorian is Mackenzie Buck, and the salutatorian is Emily McDonald.
Glynn Academy's valedictorian is Corinne Hill, and the salutatorian is Molly Mitchell.
The realization that high school is ending sank in for McDonald during practice this week.
"I'm proud of everyone for being here," she said. "Graduating is a big deal in itself, but with this year, persevering through that, a lot of kids could have just stopped doing it. But a lot of people decided to continue."
Celebrations this week mark the conclusion of what's been a trying time for many students in the senior class, Buck said.
"We obviously can't know everybody in the class personally, but we know enough to know that they have faced things or been through things that we don't even know about," she said. "I think it really is an important and powerful thing to everybody that's here together to do this."
Before the graduates left practice Wednesday, their last inquiry was answered. They could throw their hats as soon as they finished singing the school alma mater, said Marlowe Hinson, assistant principal at BHS.
"That is, if you want to throw your hat," he added in a cautionary tone, noting it won't be easy to find it when everyone participates in the celebratory toss.