As each member of the Louisa County High School class of 2020 walked across the field in The Jungle for their graduation, one of the school's alumni was on hand to help capture the scene.
Sarah Peyton, a supervisor at Dominion Energy’s North Anna Power Station, started her own photography business a few years ago. When Louisa County Public Schools Superintendent Doug Straley reached out to her to help take pictures of students at this year's unique graduation ceremonies, she was happy to do so.
“I graduated on that field 20 years ago with my classmates,” she said. “I was excited to see how different and how personal it was doing it this way.”
Peyton was one of four photographers stationed around the field to record the event. Her position was atop the platform used by the drum major when directing the marching band at football games. Students stood on the field below her, where members of the Jungle Turf Crew had painted a huge 2020. After getting their diplomas, they would go to Peyton’s station, and she would take photos of the graduates with their family members. Then she would take one just of the graduate.
“I’d tell them, ‘This is your moment. How do you want to remember today?’” she said.
The students could then do whatever they liked for their photo. Many struck poses or opened their diplomas to show them off. One student went the extra mile and did a backflip.
“It’s definitely been a feel-good moment in the middle of [the pandemic],” Peyton said. “When I woke up this morning, I was a little sad that I couldn’t go and do another day.”
Among the many things she noted that sets the 2020 graduation apart from years past is that parents got to be close by to see the seniors walk across the stage and get their diploma.
“The parents were appreciative to be up close,” Peyton said.
Extended family who weren’t able to be down on the field due to social distancing guidelines gathered on the hill behind the stadium to support the seniors. Some had photo cutouts of the seniors and many blasted airhorns and cheered as they walked across the stage.
“It brought some traditional hype to a non-traditional ceremony,” Peyton said.
Over the five days of graduation between April 22 and April 28, Peyton got photos of all 350 members of the class of 2020. She and the other photographers will now edit and send their photos to the school office to be used in a graduation video that will be made public in May. The photos will also be sent to the families in a gallery for them to view.
For Peyton, the graduation ceremony was evidence of the kind of community support that can be found in Louisa County.
“It was a huge team effort, which is great,” she said. “This is what Louisa is about, what we mean when we say ‘Louisa Pride,’ ‘One Family’ or ‘Louisa Leads.’ This is a huge example of that.”