School leaders give Class of 2020 a walk, diploma & professional pictures as memories

MSA West seniors get a somewhat different graduation ceremony amid pandemic

PLAQUEMINE, La. (WAFB) - It’s a silent and empty auditorium at MSA West in Plaquemine, but the cheers of parents do fill the room.

“I’m not even focusing on the fact that it is empty. I see where the seniors are supposed to sit,” said school Principal Emily Martin as she looked on the empty auditorium.

With a school principal who refused to let the coronavirus be the only memory for the class of 2020, an entire team came up with an alternate.

Last week, Martin, several teachers, and the school’s resource deputy Troy Doiron, literally took a portable stage to each senior’s front yard and presented them with their awards and a cap and gown.

They had one week to decorate those caps.

“I was excited to decorate it, like I did this as a memory and I am going to hang it up on my wall,” said Sha’Rika Arnold, a graduating senior.

She decorated the top of her cap to read “delayed but not denied” because Arnold did get to walk across the auditorium stage, receive her diploma and have her picture taken professionally with her diploma, all as her parents watched her.

“When I walked across the stage, they called my name and I felt very special,” said Arnold. “It feels awesome. Even though we did not get an actual ceremony, it feels great that I got my plaque.”

Students at MSA West are the Knights, and the Knight of the year this year was Christian Barbarin.

“It means that I am very special,” said Barbarin. “I just feel really glad that I came so far and I’m ready to move on in life, even though I am still nervous as to what the world may offer, it’s still a challenge, but I am willing to take it.”

“He’s autistic,” said Christian’s mother Chastity Barbarin. “I can remember when he could not talk. He was five years old and he couldn’t speak and to see him graduate and get into the college of his choice from all of his hard work, it just means everything.”

It may be a priceless moment, but not just for the MSA Knights. It’s just as memorable for their parents and teachers as well.

“It meant everything. It’s just like a silver streak in a cloud. It was everything and I’m just so glad that the school went out of their way to do everything to make lemonade out of lemons for the kids,” said Catina Battiste, mother of a graduating senior.

“This is going to be a memory that I’ll remember forever. Never have we had a graduation like this with the circumstances that we have gone through and we have actually given them 90% of what we would normally do,” said Joycelyn Bueche, manager of the performing arts center at MSA West.

“I appreciate you. We love you and we are very glad that you are taking the time out to show us appreciation and show us that you care with this,” said Arnold.

“I feel pretty appreciative and proud of myself for all you guys planning this for me,” said Barbarin.

While the auditorium physically may be empty, it’s actually packed….packed with potential.

“I think I just refuse to see this as bad. I think that this room is filled with the spirit and hope and knowledge and learning and I’m refusing to see it any differently than that,” said Martin.

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