The 55th Commencement Exercises of Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers may have been more spread out than normal on July 18, 2020, but a delay of two months did little to spoil the significance the day meant for both the graduates and their proud families.
Entering down the middle of Viking Stadium, which is emblazoned with VEROT between the hash marks, the graduates sat on folding chairs six feet apart, on either side of the stage which was placed on the goal line. Folding chairs were set up on the field with family groups sitting together to best ensure social distancing. When social distancing was not possible, everyone was required to wear a mask.
The Verot Class of 2020 overcame the impacts of Hurricane Irma in 2017 which closed their school down for weeks and it took more than a year to complete repairs. Then, just as they were on the brink of the final quarter of their senior year in high school, the world changed. The COVID-19 Pandemic cancelled in-person classes and the resulting quarantine and online classes put a new and trying meaning to distance learning for the close-knit group of 157 graduates.
These students have achieved much, having been offered more than $22 million in scholarships and nearly all with plans for higher education. Because of the delay in graduation, a few students were unable to attend, therefore the graduation was streamed live through the Verot website.
Important commencement traditions remained, such as parents who are Verot alumni were invited to the stage to present their child with their diploma. Because of the pandemic, there were no handshakes when diplomas or awards were presented.
One moment which brought a spontaneous applause was when the father of Mateo Devito accepted the diploma on his behalf, the same day he was being inducted into the U.S. Navy at the U.S. Naval Academy. The closing benediction was given by Father John Belmonte, a Jesuit priest who is the new Diocese of Venice Superintendent of Education.