After a year of being thrown one curveball after another, Cartersville High School’s Class of 2020 received a touching graduation surprise from its administrators and staff.
Since Tuesday morning, the portraits of all 337 seniors have been gracing the fence that runs along Church Street in front of Weinman Stadium in tribute to a class that had its final year of high school cut short by a pandemic.
“When we as a staff realized that our seniors were likely not going to be able to graduate as usual on our set graduation date, we, particularly our CHS administrative team, began brainstorming ideas on how we could honor them,” said graphic design teacher Valerie Veiga, who printed the giant portraits on the school’s banner printer.
While Veiga was heavily involved in the project, she said it “wasn’t my idea.”
“I was first involved when coach Darrell Demastus got in touch with me and asked me if I thought we could print each of our senior’s photos on our banner printer, sometime around the middle of April, I believe,” she said. “He had seen high schools in north Georgia with senior names and had even seen a senior billboard here, but he wanted to honor each senior like we would in a graduation.”
From there, Veiga said she “discussed the feasibility” of the project with Career Technology Aviation Academy Director and Assistant Administrator Marc Collier.
“Coach Demastus and I then, with the formal senior portraits from our yearbook, began working with sizes and a plan to hang them on the fence,” she said. “Coach Demastus then made measurements and calculations to make sure all our seniors could be hung on the front portion of the fence. They had to be hand-cut, alphabetized and grommeted as well.”
When she received the images, Veiga said she used a test file and printed out three test banners for Demastus to present to the administrators for consideration.
“After we settled on a size, I resized them in Photoshop and added our school seal and the wording at the bottom, then saved them and printed each one with our banner printer,” she said, noting they were printed on Duratex matte banner substrate. “They were printed in groups then organized by the section on the fence they were to be hung.”
Around April 15, Demastus and Veiga’s husband, Dan, hung some samples on the interior courtyard fence to “make sure they would last and the zip ties would hold well,” Veiga said.
Demastus, Collier and coach Cindy Moore then cut out each banner; Veiga’s husband, Moore and Collier grommeted all of them; Demastus and Veiga organized them; then everybody hung them.
“Coach Demastus, Coach Collier, Coach Moore and myself began hanging signs just after 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning,” Veiga said, noting her husband, school resource officer Justin Lusian, Assistant Principal Kenneth Crenshaw and Principal Shelley Tierce “came later and helped us finish up.”
The “best part of the whole project,” Veiga said, was Demastus’ desire to make it a surprise for the graduates.
“Seniors everywhere were dealing with a delayed or very modified graduation,” she said. “Cartersville High has always held a graduation filled with tradition and, in my opinion, a lot of meaning. Hanging the signs on the front fence right in front of Weinman Stadium means a lot. Having it ‘appear’ and surprise them in town seemed like a wonderful idea.”
And beginning Tuesday, seniors can remove their photo and keep it as a gift from their school.
Veiga said she’s received “lots of very kind words and thanks from parents, alumni and the community” for doing the project.
“I am so glad that it turned out well, and I hope the seniors feel honored,” she said. “In my eyes, that was the shared objective behind the idea we all worked towards. They deserve it.”
Della Pritchett was one senior who felt honored by the tribute.
“I think that because we were not allowed to be recognized this week by walking across the stage at graduation, having something to honor us in a special way was really cool,” she said. “In a year filled with new and different things, it was fun and sweet to be celebrated differently.”
Seeing her senior portrait on the fence was inspirational for Ariana Cochran.
“It makes you feel like you matter in a world that was born into chaos, 9-11-01, and seeing your picture up there proves that you can achieve your dreams even in difficult times if you just keep believing and trust your support system,” she said.