The coronavirus pandemic has upended many aspects of traditional education during the last few months, making it difficult for school officials to plan graduation ceremonies. El Campo High School seniors decided not to let the pandemic completely dictate their ceremony and petitioned for an earlier graduation date.

ECHS senior Ryan Garcia asked the El Campo ISD school board Tuesday to reconsider holding graduation in late July. Later that night, the board decided to move the ceremony to June 4.

“I was pretty excited to finally speak out and try to help my grade,” Garcia said to the Leader-News. “I thought we’d move it to later (in) June, but now it’s (even earlier) ... I feel really happy.”

According to graduation rules from the Texas Education Agency, released May 18, counties with more than five active COVID-19 cases cannot hold outdoor graduation ceremonies before May 29. Wharton County has 11 active and 44 confirmed total COVID-19 cases, as of presstime.

“The young man that spoke at the meeting did a very good job, and I was very impressed with how he presented,” ECISD Board President James Russell said. “I’m sure that influenced some of the board members, and it was nice to (hear) a student who cared enough to make an appearance.”

Garcia’s fellow graduates Justin Reyna and Ryan Williamson, the 2020 ECHS valedictorian, worked together to draft a letter on behalf of their class. The letter, addressing ECISD trustees, asked for a June ceremony instead of July so that seniors joining the armed forces could attend.

“What I thought was, ‘someone has to say something,’” Reyna said. “It just wouldn’t feel the same. Especially with most people that don’t have a choice whether they can make it or not.”

ECHS leaders initially scheduled graduation for May 22. After the pandemic closed schools on March 16, the ceremony was delayed to late July before it was moved again Tuesday.

District leaders “put a date on the calendar of July 23 as the latest possible time that we may have graduation,” Russell said. “On a weekly basis they were having conversations as to what was really feasible ... I think the intention of the leadership was always to try to have a quality graduation at the earliest time.”

ECHS honor graduate Philip Hundl will report to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. on June 25. If the ECHS graduation ceremony had not been moved to June, Hundl wouldn’t have been able to attend.

“All four years we’ve worked really, really hard,” Hundl said. “To miss out on the final ceremony of all the accomplishments and ending the chapter of high school, that would have been tough.”

ECHS officials plan to hold graduation at 8 p.m. on June 4 at Ricebird Stadium with limited attendance and other social distancing restrictions.

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