PARK FOREST, Ill. (WLS) -- It's an emotional day for Rich East High School seniors, and in more ways than one.
The students actually got to walk across a graduation stage, with a few family members on hand to share in their joy.
Thursday marks the end of an era, not just for them, but for their entire school.
Their milestone graduation accomplishment was celebrated with masks and social distancing.
"I thought I would be with all of my friends, sitting in the rows, making jokes while teachers give speeches," said Rich East graduate Kayla Richmond.
But in some ways, the ceremony is now even more meaningful amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
"It's very bittersweet. I'm definitely going to miss the school and the people but I'm ready for this new chapter in my life," Richmond said. She plans to study occupational therapy and graduate college in three years.
Seniors at Rich East High School commenced in a contactless graduation.
"I feel honored and lucky because I have friends who weren't able to do this stuff, and I'm just glad I'm still able to experience this," said graduate Jessica Stinnett.
The class of 2020 is now the 65th and final class before three separate schools in Rich Township unify. Rich East will permanently close next month.
"When they gave us our senior class shirts, they said that they saved the best for last," said 2020 Rich East Class President Khalia Smith.
"It's very exciting, sad and kind of crazy all at the same time, but I'm really excited to be moving on to the next chapter of my life," added graduate Cameron Richardson. He's off to study computer science at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.
Parents and graduating seniors swelled with pride in the socially distanced school gym Thursday.
"(These students) are adapting to things that we never would have even been able to fathom or put into words," said mother Khya Richardson.
The global pandemic is something adults are having a hard time with, but something that every single person mentioned was that the class of 2020 is handling the situation with grace and resilience.
"The are going to do great things, they've already seen that for the past two months," said Rich East High School Interim Principal Linnea Garrett.
"These are skills and strengths they are going to carry in their future," Garrett said.
Milestone achieved: Rich East High School seniors get diploma in-person despite COVID-19 crisis
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