This week typically starts the finalizing of plans for high school seniors set to graduate and move into another phase of their life. Graduation ceremonies, parties, family gatherings are all about to happen. But not so much for many this year.
For the high school Class of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has squelched many of the memories the youngsters were about to make and savor for the rest of their lives. Instead, the expectant seniors will be dealing with the addition of social distancing to their vocabulary, and limitations on the number of people who could be together at one time, which included their being able to have their moment, a moment to share the excitement of having accomplished this part of their educational life.
For 23 high school seniors this past weekend, the milestone was noted in a special, and big way. Their celebration event was hosted by someone who knows how to put together big events, and this event lived up to expectations.
Chuk Cole is the owner-operator of Cole Entertainment Services, a company known for providing event labor, and lives west of Hernando. About this time of year, Cole’s company is usually putting together staging and such for the famous Beale Street Music Festival at Memphis’ Tom Lee Park. Concert events at the Landers Center, BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, Mud Island Amphitheater in Memphis, even Walmart’s huge annual corporate meeting at Bud Walton Arena in Arkansas, have used Cole’s company for setting up staging, lights, and providing live event labor.
Chuk and Jamie Cole’s daughter Kayla is a graduating senior at St. Agnes Academy in Memphis and Cole felt his daughter, and all high school grads, were being denied the memorable moments of her final high school career thanks to the virus outbreak.
“I think the children of this COVID-19 year were getting robbed and these 23 kids are not,” Cole said Saturday as a graduation celebration unlike any other was set to begin. “We just wanted to celebrate each graduate because we weren’t sure what would happen for them with the instability of what is going on with social gatherings.”
A call had earlier been put out on social media about Cole’s plan to put on a party at his place and the families of 23 seniors from around the area responded that they wanted to be part of it.
Saturday, a stage was erected, a sound system and lights were put together. The labor was donated, as was the food. Cole arranged to have a fireworks show end the evening and the provider offered a deal on the fireworks.
Social distancing was still respected with barriers set up to keep each family from mingling with the others.
The setup for Saturday’s bash came with the blessing of DeSoto County officials, Cole said.
“The county approved everything and was able to get the fire marshal to come in to let us get his approval,” Cole said.
The students being feted came from nine different high schools. In addition to St. Agnes Academy, DeSoto County schools were represented by Lake Cormorant, Southaven, Hernando, Center Hill, DeSoto Central, and Lewisburg, along with DeSoto Christian Academy and Magnolia Heights.
After the food, the program started with each senior being recognized as if they were actually coming up to get their diplomas.
As their names were read, a short bio was read of the student’s life and school accomplishments. A slide show was shown at the same time on the screen at the back of the stage.
The graduates then came forward and were congratulated by Cole and presented with a bag of graduation gifts.
“Their gift bag is loaded with stuff, including gift cards and a printed cup celebrating the event,” Cole said. “For the small group that we have, we were able to celebrate each individual with a little extra.”
The Class of 2020 will have many different memories of their senior year. They won’t have the same memories we have of our last year in high school, the proms, graduation ceremonies, parties, and other celebrations.
However, for 23 high school seniors, they will have memories of being able to walk across a stage and be celebrated by their families in a way that is unique to them.
“We wanted to celebrate the kids and at least give them an opportunity,” said Cole. “My girl already had her prom taken away from her and her sports banquets, so what we wanted to do was just a celebration of the graduates. That’s the sole purpose of this event.”