Marching to Walk: Beaufort County students hold graduation protest

For many, high school graduation is a right of passage, but like most things in 2020, the ceremonies look a little different this year.

Marching to Walk: Beaufort County students hold graduation protest

BEAUFORT, S.C. (WTOC) - For many, high school graduation is a right of passage, but like most things in 2020, the ceremonies look a little different this year.

We’ve seen graduation parades, and virtual ceremonies, but the class of 2020 in Beaufort County wants a traditional ceremony.

Saturday afternoon, they gathered for a socially-distant peaceful protest on Beaufort’s waterfront, urging the Beaufort County School District to reconsider their plans.

“No sign is big enough to list all the reasons we need to graduate,” Liz Bodie, a senior parent, read from her sign.

Signs in hand, about 20 graduates and their supporters hope to get a message across to the school district.

“I think it’s important because we left on a Friday and never went back," said Skylar Bodie, a senior at May River High School. "We’re never going to be surrounded by that same group of people again unless we have our traditional graduation ceremony, and that’s completely do-able.”

As they march toward the next chapter in their lives, the graduates say they feel a variety of emotions.

“The most obvious, probably disappointment," said Padric Payne, a senior at Battery Creek High School. "Everybody has been looking forward to this since the beginning of senior year.”

The students said if it is safe to go in restaurants and stores, it is safe to have a graduation.

Heather Butler, a Beaufort High School senior, helped organize the short protest from a Facebook group that has nearly one-thousand members. She said being quarantined for weeks has only made their desire for a ceremony greater.

“Going completely from being a social butterfly to being this little caterpillar stuck in their cocoon, trying to come into that butterfly is- it’s really hard, because you want to go out and see people, but you can’t do it, and then you were told you can’t see these people, and you’re supposed to graduate, and never see them again,” Butler said.

Students from five of the six Beaufort County School District schools clad in caps and gowns sporting signs, and complete with masks lined up with family and friends to walk through the downtown area.

Signs featured messages like “we can and we will”, “we waited 12 years for a video”, seniors deserve better" and “facts over fear”.

“We realize that there is a virus there," Butler added. "We understand that there are risks, but we also understand that we’ve been looking at the facts. It’s been stated DHEC [The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control] that we can have an outdoor graduation with certain protocols followed, and it would be safe, and it would give us the closure that we need as seniors leaving and not getting to see these people for a very long time.”

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control website says it is recommended that gatherings with more than 250 people be cancelled. Battery Creek High School, for example, says on their website they have just over 800 students, which is roughly 200 just in the graduating class alone.

The entire demonstration lasted less than an hour, but they’re hoping the impact was enough to make a change. The graduates said they want a ceremony soon, and not one later in the summer.

The district’s website says the ceremonies will be in groups of ten students with two guests per graduate, and a commemorative video. The modified graduation ceremonies for the Beaufort County School District are scheduled June 1-6, starting with Battery Creek High School.

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