MUSCLE SHOALS — Four graduating high school seniors won't be a part of their standard commencement this year due to their military commitments but there was a plan for that — their own graduation ceremony.

The 215-member senior class is set to graduate at 7:30 p.m. June 18 in the football stadium.

Seniors Zach Cochran, Briar Holt, Presley Melson and Jackson Muck won't be among that group. Their ceremony took place Monday evening in the school auditorium.

All but Muck will have already reported to their military assignments when the regular commencement is held next month.

Muck will report on June 30 to U.S. Army basic training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before being stationed in Arizona to be trained in military intelligence. He chose to go through the earlier commencement ceremony with his military-bound friends. 

Cochran reports May 27 to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for advanced individual training before joining the ROTC program at the University of North Alabama.

Holt will report June 16 to the U.S. Marine Corps basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Melson reports June 6 for U.S. Air Force security forces training in San Antonio, Texas.

Chad Holden, high school principal and the school system's incoming superintendent, said that although a separate commencement has never been held before, "It was just the right thing to do, to give them the opportunity for a commencement ceremony."

Held in the school's 900-seat auditorium, Holden said there was plenty of space for social distancing.

Each of the four graduates were allowed to invite 10 guests.

"We were well under the limit for what the auditorium would allow with social distancing in place, and we recommended masks (but didn't require them) in an effort to keep everyone safe and healthy," Holden said.

The ceremony followed the same script as the regular commencement, just with a military twist. Holden, in his address to the graduates, choked back tears at one point saying, "This group and this ceremony is special to me, my grandfather served in World War II."

Cochran said he'd accepted the fact that he'd miss out on graduation.

"I was still pretty bummed about it. I didn't think it was the end of the world or anything, but I still wanted (a ceremony) like everyone else was getting," he said. "It never crossed my mind that they'd do this, but I was happy about it and proud that they would make the effort to do this for us."

Holden told the group that their most memorable moment from high school would be the relationships they forged.

"Relationships are the most important things in life. Those are what you will remember from your time here."

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