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Graduating class of one for Tangier Combined School

Tangier Combined School had 47 students in their K-12 school, but Matthew Parks was the only person in his class since the 4th grade and the only graduate of 2020.

TANGIER, Va. — High schools across the area have been trying to make graduation special for seniors. The coronavirus pandemic meant traditional ceremonies couldn’t take place.

There was one celebration that would have been unique regardless of COVID-19. For the first time ever, Tangier Combined School had only one graduating senior.

Tangier Combined School Principal Nina Pruitt said, “It is the first time that we’ve only had one graduate.”

The school on Tangier Island covers K-12, but Pruitt said that it only had 47 students in all this year.

Matthew Parks has been the only student in his grade level since fourth grade.

Parks said, “It was weird at first and you know, I was not very excited about it.” However, Parks said being the only student and the only senior, had its perks.

“I feel like I did better because you know one-on-one like I am there on the focus and vice versa,” said Parks.

Still, he said he was bummed he didn’t get to say goodbye to his friends in the other grades at school because of the pandemic.

“I wanted my last few months of school to be in school.”

Pruitt said he handled moving to strictly virtual learning with grace. 

“If this coronavirus was going to happen to anyone, Matthew was a good pick for it because he is a go-with-the-flow kind of young man,” said Pruitt.

She and the community still wanted to make his graduation special. They held a “drive-in” ceremony in the airport parking lot.

Dressed in his graduation cap and gown, Parks received his diploma on stage. 

“And I am very grateful for everything that they’ve done for me. You know, most people didn’t even get a graduation," Parks said.

During high school, Parks also served as a volunteer firefighter on the island. Therefore, Pruitt put together a parade for him and Parks rode on a firetruck.

People in the community followed in their cars, showing that being the lone graduate doesn't have to be a lonely achievement.

“It was like I said, it was all for me and it felt awesome,” said Parks. “I mean it really shows as a community how much we love each other and I think you all so much.”

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