HAMPTON, Va. - COVID-19 may have forced the Hampton City School Division’s graduation ceremonies outdoors, but it was not enough stop the "pomp and circumstance" from playing and the students from walking across makeshift stages on Monday.
"I always thought I couldn't do it, but I'm here," Leah Michelle-Bass, a graduate from Kecoughtan High School said after she received her diploma with relatives by her side.
She, other graduates, their families and faculty gathered outside the Hampton Coliseum, where graduations were held years prior. This year, the school district had to hold their ceremonies outside because of the pandemic. Monday was a commemorative photo session where graduates had their pictures taken as they walked across the stages, just like during traditional graduations.
"It's really sad that we got to be social distancing and everything but it feels to good to be a graduate," Jaylen Oglesby, a graduate from Hampton High School said. He also had some of his family members with him to see walk across a stage.
This year, 1,425 seniors graduated from the Hampton City School Division. Stages were set up so students from four different high schools -- Kecoughtan, Bethel, Hampton and Phoebus -- could walk across to accept their diplomas.
Ralph Saunders, the executive principal at Bethel High School, gave a congratulatory farewell to the seniors he did not see for a whole since the pandemic forced schools to close across Virginia and the nation.
"I was just like the class of 2020; I was heartbroken," Saunders told News 3, when asked how he felt this year's seniors could have experience the traditional graduation. "We are just as excited as they are to celebrate this special moment and achievement in their lives."
The setup will continue until Wednesday. The school division said students had to register for designated times in order to walk across their school's respective stage.
A virtual ceremony will also take place where valedictorians and salutatorians will give speeches. There will also be a "decorated vehicle procession" for each school, which will consist of students inside their own vehicles to serve as the processional walk.
Now, these students prepare for the next chapter of their lives.
"I plan on going to a trade school and finding a nice job that fits perfect for me," Oglesby said.
"I want to go to Thomas Nelson, get to a cheap college," Michelle-Bass said, "and get my associate's so I can be a veterinarian."
Before they left, they tossed their caps into the air in celebration.