O'FALLON, Mo. — In a year when many states are prohibiting in-person graduation ceremonies due to the coronavirus, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is not only allowing them, but also spoke at one.
The Republican governor had a special connection to the indoor ceremony Thursday night at Sparta High School in southwestern Missouri: His granddaughter was among the 42 seniors receiving diplomas.
Missouri reopened after the pandemic-forced shutdown on May 4, and Parson was among the few governors to give the go-ahead for large-scale gatherings, including graduation ceremonies.
Social distancing requirements remain in place, though, and most of Missouri's 555 public school districts and public charter schools are choosing other options such as drive-thru graduations or virtual ceremonies. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said some districts are postponing graduation until the summer in hopes of having in-person ceremonies then.
Sparta is in Christian County, where 20 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the state health department. Superintendent Rocky Valentine said the district would take several precautions to protect against the spread of the disease.
Each graduating senior was allowed to invite up to 10 people, meaning the approximately 2,000-seat gym would be, at most, at around 25% capacity. Families sat together, but were spaced throughout the gym from others. The school board chairman handed diplomas to students as they came forward. Masks or other face protection were not required.
Parson and his wife, Teresa, presented the diploma to their granddaughter, who hugged each of them.
Parson spoke briefly to Sparta's graduates and their guests, talking to them about the importance of hard work, the American Dream and making their own path in the world.
"My hopes are in you," he said.