In the midst of a pandemic that derailed the last semester for Smiths Station High School’s seniors, the staff at the school were eager to honor the Class of 2020 in some form or fashion. Ultimately, they decided there was no better way to do so than to display the seniors’ smiling faces for all passersby to see.
Smiths Station installed signs in front of the school over the weekend featuring the senior portrait of every Class of 2020 member. The signs were a gesture from the school’s staff to commemorate the approximately 420 students who had their last months of high school — including their traditional graduation ceremony previous set for May 18 — derailed due to the ongoing health crisis.
“When all this came about, we were trying to figure out how to recognize our seniors and what all we could do to recognize them and their accomplishments. I don’t know exactly who came up with the idea, but I know our librarians (Veronica Jackson and Tessa Dunn) were instrumental in organizing it as well as some of my senior sponsors and my PTO. Once the idea was bounced out there, we all kind of jumped on it,” Smiths Station principal Brad Cook said. “We want the best things for these kids. We don’t want to rush into decisions and it not be as dignified or as representative of how special these kids are. It’s really been a frustrating process all the way around, but I’ve got phenomenal teachers and staff here. They’re going nonstop trying to put things together.”
Smiths Station is one of several Lee County schools that were sent scrambling with the news in mid-March that students would begin learning from home, which proved to be the strategy used for the rest of the school year. Since that news first broke, Cook and the school’s staff have been working tirelessly to make the most of the situation, especially for the seniors who will not be back when the 2020-2021 school year begins.
Based on what he’s heard so far, Cook has been pleased with the reception about the senior portrait signs.
“This is kind of a small town but a very strong community as far as the school goes. The feedback was that they were elated,” Cook said. “It’s just a small gesture to do — to put out the faces of the graduates out there on the road. It was just for them to be able to put some kind of tangible experience to all the negative that they’ve had, just to see their baby’s face on that sign at this culminating moment of their public education here.
“Just about all day (Monday), there were people in the road either driving by slowly taking video or getting out and taking pictures with the signs. It’s been very, very well received by our parents and our community.”
For seniors like Shelby Watkins and Carson Swilling, the small gesture by the staff goes a long way given the circumstances.
“When I heard about the signs for the senior class, it made me appreciate the Smiths Station High staff even more,” Watkins said. “The situation we are all in has been very difficult for us seniors to cope with, but it also has been difficult for all of our teachers and administrators. While senior year has been far from normal, the staff is doing everything they possibly can to recognize, honor and show their love to the senior class.”
“(The signs) show Smiths Station can come together through a tough time,” Swilling said. “It bothers me not knowing what the outcome would have been for the high school baseball season and not being able to make more memories for my last few months of high school. It’s always nice to see support for something you worked for.”
Cook and his staff have remained hard at work in the last few weeks, which included unveiling plans on Tuesday to hold a parking lot graduation on May 30. Their efforts have been solely focused on making the most out of a tough situation for the school’s seniors; for students such as Watkins, their work has not gone unnoticed.
“I am so grateful for their devotion and efforts to celebrate the Class of 2020,” Watkins said. “I am proud to be a graduate of a school with such an amazing staff.”