Carolina International School's senior graduate together at a distance
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Carolina International School's senior graduate together at a distance

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CONCORD — Since Carolina International School opened in 2004 there have been plenty of graduation ceremonies, but it is unlikely any will match the uniqueness of the one held Saturday for the Class of 2020.

Cars lined up at the driveway entrance to the front of the school while students got out one at a time, stood more than six feet apart, and were handed their diploma from school officials whose faces were adorned with masks.

This isn’t a new tradition the school is planning, but it is graduation during the year 2020 amidst a global pandemic. With social distancing guidelines, mass gatherings are limited to 10 people inside and 25 outdoors. This makes graduation incredibly difficult in the way many know it, so CIS decided to improvise with a drive-thru celebration Saturday morning on their campus on the west side of Cabarrus County.

After a speech from the keynote speaker and addresses from the salutatorian and valedictorian, families pulled up in their cars and students got out one by one to get in line several feet apart before grabbing their diplomas.

The uniqueness was not lost on any of the speakers who addressed the line of cars with excited students ready to move on to the next chapter in their lives.

“Today, I have been given an honor of being your commencement speaker during a most unusual time in our world’s history,” Keynote Speaker Mrs. Michelle Boyd of Atrium Health's AHEC program, said. “In case you didn’t know it, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19, is the reason we’re wearing our masks today and practicing social distance.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I applaud you for being here today, in the midst of social distancing, stay-at-home mandates, and school at home. Did you ever think you would have school at home? Not homeschoolers, but everybody is at home.

“Conflicting messages within the last 90 days, it seems like it’s been forever, but within the last 90 days we were told, ‘Don’t wear a mask, it’s not effective,’ then we’re told, ‘No, no, no, everybody’s encouraged to wear a mask.’ We were told, ‘Oh, this is just like the flu, it’s not a big deal,’ then we were told, ‘Wait, wait, this is different from the flu and could be deadlier.’

“But through all of that, through all of that you made it. You’re graduating today. I want you to know that you are resilient and courageous. You did it through all of that, I’m so proud of you.”

CIS was established as the first non-profit charter school in Cabarrus County in 2004. It has a two-fold charter focus upon International Studies and Global Environmental Studies. 

It began in Harrisburg in mobile units and later moved to the current facility situated upon 82 acres in west Cabarrus County in August of 2013. 

On Saturday, 52 seniors got out of their cars and received their diplomas. Two of those seniors, Salutatorian Inayah Washington-Jackson and Valedictorian Hannah Remsburg, addressed their fellow graduates.

“I know that times are really scary right now,” Washington-Jackson said. “There’s so much uncertainty in the world there are various different potential outcomes, but I see no reason for us to fear.

“For many of us were born into the chaotic…world of post-9/11. Our country had never experienced something like that ever and it was hard for people to find a way to move on, but they did, and our country continued to flourish and so will we.

“All this going on right now is just a minor setback and when it is gone we will take the world by storm.”

Every student received a special handmade mask to commemorate this unique graduation.

During every single speech, horns honked and people cheered as this was the first time many of them had been on campus in mass in months and might be the last time many of them are at the school for a long time.

“There are a lot of seemingly negative or rough life situations that have surrounded our class but that has nothing to do with who we are as people other than the perseverance that we have, so don’t let them make that anything else,” Remsburg said. 

She continued: “Remember when we look back on this time in our lives, other classes have stories, but we, Class of 2020, made history.”

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