Palatka Housing Authority hosts ceremony to honor 17 graduating students
By Nick Blank
Palatka Daily News
The COVID-19 pandemic put Putnam County graduations slated for May on hold. Many students didn’t get a graduation ceremony with the robes, mortarboards and recognition that come with finishing high school.
To help replace that, Palatka Housing Authority hosted a graduation ceremony and parade for 17 Palatka High School students Thursday.
The director of resident services, Aaron Robinson, said students from the community decorated a car and went from the housing authority’s office to the Rosa K. Ragsdale Community.
They were escorted by fire department and police department staff.
“Most of these kids weren’t having graduation ceremonies,” Robinson said. “(The Palatka Housing Authority) and the school district were working really hard to fill in the gaps.”
Robinson said the idea originated from Erie, Pennsylvania, where a similar event was held. At Ragsdale, family and friends greeted the students.
“These kids never got to experience a graduation,” Robinson said.
Housing authority President and CEO Anthony Woods called the event positive reinforcement for graduates in a socially-distanced environment.
“While we were intent on not creating an environment that (the school district) was trying to avoid, we wanted to encourage our youth that this is the beginning of new discoveries and lessons,” Woods said.
“We needed to enlist their commitment to being responsible for the future of our community and to never cease to learn, but to aspire for higher heights in all of their quests. We reassured the graduates that we are here now and we will be here in the future.”
School district Graduation Coordinator Pamela Brown said she worked with Robinson to identify students who lived in the housing authority.
Then Robinson sent a letter to the graduates and visited them.
Brown said there were about 15 cars in the parade.
“We did it safely. We had masks on,” Brown said. “They really wanted to have that moment. They just felt supported.”
A lesson Brown took from the ceremony was the way elementary and middle school-aged children saw the graduates.
“It was very heartwarming to see the younger students who were watching the parade,” Brown said. “That could be something they look forward to in the future.”
Putnam County graduations are tentatively scheduled for the first week of August.