MARYVILLE, Mo. — Two Maryville High School seniors accepted their diplomas Wednesday night during a special commencement ceremony at the Lee and Nina Schneider Center for the Performing Arts and soon will head off to serve their country.

Riley Gray and Wyatt Walker both will be entering into the United States Armed Services and would have had to miss the school’s graduation currently scheduled for Saturday, July 18.

The small, personal ceremony provided all the trappings of the school’s usual ceremony: “Pomp and Circumstance,” a speech from a school leader, diplomas, the turning of tassels and family. Missing of course were friends, large crowds and hopefully COVID-19.

The school and families worked to adhere to social distancing practices. The graduates took their places on the stage in two chairs spaced 6-feed apart, while the families sat separately on either side of the center.

“Surreal,” was the word Gray used to describe the ceremony. “In my mind high school ended right when they said we’re not going back to school.”

Gray, who is joining the Army National Guard, said it was nice to have her family at the ceremony.

“It’s really cool that they did this little thing for us because they said it was going to be July for actual graduation and I got kind of sad, I’d have to miss it,” she said.

Gray ships out Tuesday, June 9. She will be stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

“It’s going to be humid,” she said wryly.

Walker said it was just another day for him, though certainly not for his mother, Laura Walker. She decorated his mortarboard just for the occasion.

He is joining the U.S. Army and ships out for 17 weeks of training

“My AIT and basic’s all in the same spot,” Walker said.

He will be stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia as a 19-D Cavalry Scout.

“Obviously this is an untraditional ceremony, but I think an important one as these two young individuals are off to serve their country in the military,” said Maryville High School Principal Thom Alvarez. “In this day and age, (it’s) becoming rarer, but obviously a very worthwhile and admirable venture.”

Alvarez quoted writer Charlotte Eriksson saying he believed the words are important, but especially for young people starting their life.

“Find what makes you happy and go for it with all your heart. It will be hard, but I promise it will be worth it.”

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