Dobyns-Bennett seniors happy with plans for in-person graduation

Rick Wagner • May 6, 2020 at 2:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett High School’s Kristin Thorneloe, Macy Woods and Brody Carmack, among more than 500 graduating seniors, got welcome news in Tuesday’s announcement of plans to move forward with an in-person graduation in July.

“I think that it’s a good idea,” Thorneloe said of Kingsport City Schools (KCS) plans to have a traditional in-person graduation for the Class of 2020 the weekend of July 17-18, a Friday and Saturday, if health authorities allow. She said online instruction, used since school buildings closed to students in mid-March, has convinced her in-person graduation is the way to go.

“It is nowhere close to how in-person things work or things happen,” Thorneloe said.

“Being online (for graduation) is not that meaningful at all,” Thorneloe said. “I plan on attending as long as I’m in town.”

Thorneloe said she expects some planned trips over the summer will be canceled or postponed.

Her current plan is to put off her freshman year at the University of North Carolina until the fall of 2021, instead spending time in the Netherlands being an au pair and learning Dutch or teaching English in a foreign country. She said she doesn’t want her freshman year of college to include online learning in the way her senior year of high school did. She is majoring in journalism with a minor in German.


KCS announced Tuesday morning that “after much consideration and after consulting with many students,” the system would move forward with as traditional an in-person graduation as it could.

School officials said they will continue to monitor recommendations from health officials on how to hold the safest possible graduation event. Based on that guidance, they said it may be necessary to adjust plans regarding the event, such as the size, location or the number of guests able to attend. Final details regarding graduation weekend will be announced as soon as they are able to be determined.

“I’m just really glad that we are going to get to have something as close to a traditional graduation as possible,” Carmack said, adding that online graduation would just not be the same thing.

“As the status of health considerations and guidance from the Sullivan County Regional Health Department become known as that weekend approaches, final details regarding time and logistics, including a mandatory graduation practice, will be announced,” the news release said.

The traditional graduations at D-B generally draw about 5,000 to J. Fred Johnson Stadium, the normal venue unless rain forces the event inside to the Buck Van Huss dome.

“Being able to hold an event that appropriately honors the accomplishments of our senior class is extremely important to the Dobyns-Bennett community,” D-B Principal Chris Hampton said in the release. “In talking with members of our senior class, it became obvious that their wish was the same as ours … to be able to have an in-person celebration that recognizes the contributions they have made during their careers as students in Kingsport City Schools.”


Macy Woods, who is to head to Liberty University in the fall for in-person classes in Virginia, said high school graduation happens only once and should be done right, adding that the canceled proms can be held this summer with smaller groups of friends.

“We are just grateful for the opportunity to share this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with our peers and teachers,” Woods said of graduation. “I’m really hoping this gets through.”

Students who will not be able to attend a graduation ceremony in July due to previous commitments such as military deployments and post-secondary education are encouraged to contact the D-B counseling office by June 1.

School administrators will individually work with those students to plan a graduation celebration that honors their accomplishments. Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True said in an interview that is because those students deserve recognition, too.

“The ability to honor the work of our seniors and their families is a milestone event in the life of an educational community,”  Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said. “In announcing plans to hold graduation the weekend of July 17-18, our desire is to hold a single event where the entire Kingsport community can come together to celebrate our students.”

Elsewhere in the region, Science Hill High School, which has slightly more students than D-B, is to have an in-person graduation June 19-20 or July 24-25 with up to six separate ceremonies either at Freedom Hall Civic Center or Kermit Tipton Stadium. Sullivan County school officials are getting input from a senior survey put together after talking with leaders at Sullivan North, South, Central and East.

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