Student dons cap and gown over mask, protective suit in coronavirus-altered graduation photos

A college senior set to graduate in the time of COVID-19 decided to document the unprecedented experience in his graduation photos, and the images are resonating with students across the United States. 

Jonah Deaton is a senior at Southeastern University, majoring in digital media and design. He is also a professional photographer who specializes in weddings, couples and high school seniors. 

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Deaton, 22, who began his career in photography in high school, said he has always pushed himself to do something different.

He said he drew inspiration for the photos from his own experience as a member of the class of 2020, set to graduate in April amid a global pandemic that has crippled world economies and turned bustling cities into virtual ghost towns as millions shelter inside their homes. 

"It comes from a lot," Deaton said. "I was sitting at home reflecting on all that is going on and how seniors and graduates are being affected, myself included." 

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Deaton said he realized that he could create an important and impactful visual record of the historic COVID-19 crisis through his camera lens. Though the protective mask and suit he wore in the photos were not medical-grade, Deaton said they were meant to be a metaphorical mark of what he and many other students are going through.

Jonah Deaton, 22, tosses his graduation cap in a photo that he took to mark his graduation from college amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. (Jonah Deaton, JD Photography)

"I believe that these pictures represent and will help document this time in history," Deaton said.

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Deaton is not alone in the disruption of his commencement. Universities and high schools across the U.S. have been forced to vacate classrooms and call off graduation ceremonies in a bid to quell the spread of COVID-19, which had sickened more than 10,000 in the country and claimed the lives of more than 150 as of March 19.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged the public to practice social distancing in a desperate effort to "flatten the curve" of new infections and stop the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.

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Deaton said he's received positive comments on his photos from students in similar situations, and from others who are eager to encourage the graduates in a difficult time.

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"While this is an uncertain situation leaving people with many questions, the overwhelming majority have shown good feedback and support. For not only myself but the seniors that are facing the same situation," Deaton said.