ANDERSON — Carson Wallace’s message to his classmates was “Don’t let fear keep you from saying yes to God’s word. Go and do.”

Wallace shared his experience overcoming his fears when his family went to Kenya for three months where his father taught chemistry.

He was one of three speakers who addressed the 11 students who received their diplomas from their parents during the East Central Indiana Homeschool Graduation held in the parking lot of Madison Park Church of God on Saturday.

Each student had a row of chairs set aside for their family as extended family and friends watched from lawn chairs or their cars.

The homeschool graduation ceremony is among the first of the 2020 high school commencement season, which this year has been extended into July for some schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Others this weekend include ceremonies for Frankton, Lapel and Pendleton Heights high schools today.

Trying to bring a traditional and fitting close to the graduates’ K-12 educations has left school officials, parents and students to find creative ways to celebrate.

The Herald Bulletin is trying to help with that effort today by publishing the names and photos of nearly every graduate of a Madison County high school and ones in the nearby communities we cover in its special graduation section.

Though the graduates won’t walk across a stage with their classmates, many celebrations will include the trappings of the traditional graduation, including, cakes, balloons and decorated mortar boards.

In addition to planning a socially distanced ceremony and parade, Alexandria-Monroe Jr.-Sr. High School officials tried to bring back some of the fun of senior year for the school’s 112 seniors May 7 with a cap and gown distribution party. The event included music, socially distanced farewell with teachers and photos in front of a specially painted mural by art teachers, Angie Ficcaglia and Caryn Gorman.

Alexandria Principal Tom Johns said he came up with the idea while talking to a representative from Herff Jones, which sells memorabilia, such as class rings.

“This is a very special senior class, both academically, athletically,” he said. “It was exciting to see them. It had been two months since I’d seen all of them,”

As they discussed what could be done, he formulated a plan that would draw in his staff.

“I have a pretty creative group of teachers who work with students,” he said.

That included Michael Abernathy, the school’s announcer of the annual powder puff game to act as master of ceremonies, and math teacher Michelle Burnett as disc jockey.

“He’s known for talking smack,” Johns said of Abernathy. “All the staff members I reached out to didn’t think twice about it. They were like, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’”

Senior Meredith Nichols, 18, who looked forward for years to celebrating the end of her K-12 chapter, said the ceremony wasn’t the only thing that changed for her because of COVID-19. She originally planned to work at a church camp over the summer but instead will start online classes for her degree in music education and theater from Indiana Wesleyan University.

“I know I would really like to have an actual graduation and have my parents there and give my grandma a hug and worm through all of my friends,” she said.

Nichols said she didn’t know in advance about the party and thought she was just going to drive through to pick up her cap and gown. She said she appreciated the effort Johns and his staff put into the surprise.

“At first I didn’t really realize what all was going to go into it,” she said. “I think it was really great they gave us something to get together and see our friends and see our teachers. It wasn’t ideal, but if definitely was more fun than picking up our cap and gowns in the hallway before lunch.

“We got pictures together that we probably won’t be able to get at the actual graduation.”

The event sparked renewed enthusiasm for the socially distanced graduation Alexandria plans on June 19.

“Mr. Johns has been working really hard to give us something and not settle for anything less than he is able to provide,” she said. “Compared to an online graduation, it’s definitely something I am looking forward to now.”

Heather Morris, whose son Hunter Morris graduates today from Lapel Jr.-Sr. High School, spearheaded a senior banner project similar to one she had seen organized in another town. Banners honoring each graduate have been hung along Main Street.

“Just being able to honor them and let them know the whole town was behind them for all of the challenges they overcame at the end of the year, seemed like a special sort of thing we could do,” she said. “I kind of sat on it a couple of days and thought, ‘How can this be done; how could the money be raised’?”

The first thing Morris did was contact Lapel-based WC Signs to figure out the cost.

“I thought if we were going to do this it would be cool to work with a local company on this,” she said.

After getting the go-ahead from Lapel Principal John Willis, Morris started a Go-Fund Me page to raise $1,400 for the project. The money was raised in about an hour and 20 minutes from Lapel residents, teachers and people who no longer live in the community, she said.

“I wasn’t sure how quickly that would happen. I wasn’t sure it would take days or weeks, but I knew it needed to be done before graduation,” she said.“I was floored by how quickly people started donating. I just think it was a testament of how much people want to do something to acknowledge the seniors this year.”

On whether or not the school is able to return to its traditional graduation ceremony anytime soon, Morris said she believes the banners are likely to become something the community will support from now on.

“Mr. Willis and I have already talked to about what junior parent we will pass this torch on to,” she said.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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