Thousands of Williamson County Schools seniors graduated this past week, including the first graduating class for WCS' newest high school venture, Vanguard Virtual High School.
Vanguard Virtual High School launched last year alongside WCS' Discovery Virtual K-8, with both online-schools aimed at offering educational opportunities to students whose needs are evolving throughout the equally evolving digital age.
In total, 78 students earned their diplomas and graduated as part of the inaugural Vanguard Virtual High School graduating class, with most of the graduates attending the in-person service at Franklin's Fourth Avenue Church of Christ on Saturday morning.
The commencement ceremony included remarks from Principal Allison Fisher, Assistant Principal Javier Nunez, VVHS teacher of the year and keynote speaker Casey Ward, Valedictorian Russell Overton and Salutatorian Lucca Silva.
WCS board members Sheila Cleveland, Eliot Mitchell and Eric Welch also attended as guests.
WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said that the expansion into a fully-online education option had been in the works for some time, but the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic helped to speed up it's implementation.
"We're looking to serve students where they are, and what we've learned, especially in these last two years, is that students are growing and evolving quicker all the time, and this virtual education is an important extra tool for the students who need it," Golden said.
And while most students have returned to the physical classroom, for some, permanent online high school just made sense.
Two of those graduates were Taylor Abbott and Ellen Warden who are also neighbors in Franklin. They have been friends since third grade. They posed for a photo together after the ceremony, holding a printed photo of themselves taken as they graduated from fifth grade.
"We just grew up together, we are neighbors and just hanging out all the time, a super-solid friendship that we hope to be able to keep when we go separate ways for college," Abbott said, adding that she will soon attend Western Kentucky University to study exercise science.
"I think it's pretty cool that we've been friends for this long," Warden said. She will attend Middle Tennessee State University to study interior design.
Both Warden and Abbot said that the new educational option allowed them to still work within the WCS curriculum and community while offering a flexible schedule.
"For me, the flexible schedule was definitely one of the perks because I do competition dance, so I'm dancing pretty much everyday," Warden said. "That just freed up a lot of room for me to do that and also be able to do school."
Warden's father Don said that he was proud to see his daughter succeed in the new school despite the challenges that have become familiar to anyone who has experienced distanced learning.
"There were some technological challenges that were overcome, and I think that the staff's resilience and the student's resilience really allowed this to happen," Don Warden said.