St. Mary High School will have its 2020 Baccalaureate Mass and graduation ceremony on July 11 in the high school gymnasium with plans to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

Principal Doug Shelton said that the events will be closed to the general public to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Guests will be required to wear masks, but when they are seated in their assigned row, they have the option to remove them during the ceremony.

Each graduate was required to pre-register guests in case of the need for contact tracing and to meet the 300-person target capacity.

Each graduate is allowed up to 12 guests to attend, and all guests will be in the same row of seats. Rows will be placed 6 feet apart.

“The first thing we did was figure out what our capacity is, which is about 1,200 people,” Shelton said. “We’re going to be at 25% of what our gym can hold, as 300 people became a comfortable target with everyone in attendance seated on the gym floor.”

Graduating students will be on the stage, also seated 6 feet apart.

Other aspects of graduation have been taken into account as well, Shelton said, including photos.

“If a senior wants to leave the mask on throughout while getting their diploma, it’s a sign of the times,” he said. “I wouldn’t blame them, but then, there’s the big smile, so hopefully, we’ll have that option.

“… We don’t want people taking pictures out in the commons area for pre- or post-ceremonies.”

Shelton said that the temperature of each person in attendance will be taken before they come in, and programs will be placed on each seat beforehand.

He said that the graduation procedure will be a good “test run” to how school may look when it opens for the next school year.

Shelton said that, as it is elsewhere, there are different opinions about the need to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

“We are constantly trying to walk that tightrope between that safety piece that has to be there and the wants and desires of the people who think it’s gone too far,” he said. “It makes it difficult to make a lot of decisions. I’ve been happy with the responses as far as graduation’s gone. People are willing to make these adjustments to follow the guidelines.

“I think everyone’s more or less in lockstep with ‘We’ll do what we have to do, to do this live,’ realizing that when they tell stories about their graduation, they’re going to be the ones that are unique now, that they actually had a live (ceremony), compared with their peers.”

Shelton said that the graduation plans for the Class of 2020 have been discussed since March and that he is glad that it was able to be held at the school.

“Personally, I’ve become more resolved to just make an honest effort to make it happen, and if that didn’t work out, as long as we tried our best to make it work out, I was going to be happy,” he said. “I just need these next few days to come on before the world changes again.”

The bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, the Most Rev. William Francis Medley, will preside over the traditional Baccalaureate Mass to kick off the graduation ceremony. There will be a brief intermission between the Mass and the graduation ceremony to get the stage ready for the students.

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