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Gov. Mike Parson speaks at granddaughter’s high school graduation

The coronavirus pandemic has been especially hard on this year’s high school seniors, with schools scrambling to find ways to hold graduation ceremonies while practicing social distancing. One southwest Missouri school, however, not only held graduation but had a special guest speaker.

Gov. Mike Parson spoke Thursday evening to graduates of Sparta High School, according to ABC News. His granddaughter was one of the 42 students who received 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-through 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 percent 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.