Roanoke County Public Schools go all-in on online graduation ceremonies

Local News

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Despite the school district’s original plans, holding a physical graduation ceremony at the Salem Civic Center is out of the question for Roanoke County Public Schools (RCPS).

RCPS leaders then asked themselves: What can we do?

“We knew it was going to be online,” said Chuck Lionberger, Community Relations Specialist for RCPS. “That came pretty much right out of the gate.”

Lionberger mentioned that the school district had already been live-streaming graduation ceremonies for almost a decade.

“We had a playbook, already,” Lionberger said. “We knew what to do and how to do it. We had a means by which to do… to hold an online graduation that was as close to the real thing as could be possible without actually having students in attendance.”

Lionberger said, total, he had shot nearly a third of a terabyte in footage for the district’s five high school graduations, including celebrity messages from past graduates like Tiki Barber, and speeches from school valedictorians, like Kaylee Shrewsbury from William Byrd High School.

“We were speaking to a camera,” Shrewsbury said. “It was an empty room. We were just supposed to be acting like it was filled like it would be at the Civic Center.”

Shrewsbury was just getting ready to watch her ceremony on RCPS’ website. For a while, she didn’t think this ceremony would happen.

“Some nights, I just went home thinking, ‘is this it? Are we even going to have a graduation?'” Shrewsbury said

Getting the chance to speak to her class — even online — put her mind at ease that she will, in fact, enter the summer as a high school graduate.

“Just the fact that they were able to come together and do something for the Class of 2020 really means a lot,” Shrewsbury said.

Lionberger mentioned that the school district still wants to hold a physical ceremony later in the summer, but at this time, no hard dates have been established.

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