SOUTH COAST — “I’m putting on my happy face and am excited for students,” said Superintendent Tim Sweeney as the Coquille School District gets ready for its Class of 2020 graduation.
“I’ve had multiple students and families say this is a tough way to say goodbye.”
The upcoming graduation is not what Sweeney, or any school district, has seen before. As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, no gatherings of large groups are allowed to gather. This is to protect the health of the community and means no traditional graduation ceremony can be held this year.
To get creative, school districts are generating new ways to hand out diplomas while also celebrating this year’s graduating seniors.
In Coquille, Winter Lakes High School has already begun having individual graduation ceremonies. As of Friday, Sweeney had spoken at four already.
“I gave my spiel about meeting the requirements for high school graduation and found it doesn’t matter if I give that talk in front of 1,000 people or just a mom, a dad, and a student,” Sweeney said. “It is still emotional for me.”
The Winter Lakes High School will see 80 graduates this year, while Coquille High School will see 48. At CHS, there will be a “drive-up” ceremony in the parking lot where students will arrive in a vehicle with their families. This event, taking place at the end of the month, will start at the high school and then wind through town.
Though Sweeney says he is excited for graduating seniors, he is also saddened by the global circumstances affecting their last year in high school.
“They didn’t get to go through the high school one last time to say goodbye to teachers and friends,” he said. “People are struggling and I understand that. It’s the best we can do under trying circumstances and it will be a story they will tell for the rest of their lives. It will have a whole other meaning than any other class in history.”
Coos Bay School District
Coos Bay Schools are still working out the fine details of its graduation ceremony, said Superintendent Bryan Trendell. Right now, the district has a combined graduating class of 215 students, spread from Marshfield High School, Resource Link and Destinations Academy.
“We plan to have the students and families in vehicles,” Trendell said. “We are doing a car parade.”
The district is getting city police and fire departments to escort the students and families along a parade route downtown before circling up to the school on June 6. Once at the school, students will take turns getting diplomas and a picture before going back to their vehicles.
“I think it is a good option that falls into the guidance given by the Oregon Health Authority and the governor and allows us to celebrate each kid individually and as a group,” Trendell said.
North Bend School District
It may have the look of a traffic jam, but it will be a full-scale celebration.
On the evening of Friday June 5, North Bend High School will be holding a 2020 graduation that will feature the graduating class in a line of cars on their way to receive their diploma.
“There’s going to be a line that goes from the front of the high school all the way down between the swimming pool and the west grandstand, back to the middle school parking lot and then we’ll make a loop in the gymnasium parking lot, down the hill by the tennis courts and back out down Pony Creek,” said North Bend High School athletic director Mike Forrester.
The estimated 160 graduates will ride in cars with family members all the way until they get near the front of the school where the graduating student will get out of the car. As parents and family members drive next to the student, the graduates will receive their diploma as their name is called over the loud speakers of the football stadium.
Pictures will be taken, there will be a banner, a podium and then the graduate will get back in the car and the ceremony will continue.
“We think it will move along pretty quickly,” said Forrester. “You can hear that speaker all the way to Glasgow on a Friday night so everybody in North Bend will hear their name.”
North Bend High School also plans to livestream the event for all those who aren’t in the cars with loved ones.
While the evening reaches a crescendo when the graduate’s names are called, the road to receiving the diploma will also be part of the fun. Along the route there will be a sign with each graduate’s name that families and friends will have the chance to decorate. In addition, there will also be faculty from across the district lining the path and cheering on seniors as they head to their graduation.
“We think it will be cool for the seniors. It will be something that we’ve never done before. At their 50-year class reunion they can talk about the graduation they had that nobody else ever had,” said Forrester.
Reedsport School District
While there is no finalized plan for what graduation from Reedsport High School will look like this year, there are plenty of ideas.
“Anything from parades to having some type of ceremony for at least a culminating picture of the graduating class that’s kind of separated out in their caps and gowns on the football field,” said Reedsport principal Jerry Uhling.
“We’ve seen people do small walkthroughs where they walk through on a stage or on a presentation and it could be closed captioned or put on Zoom and people can view it. Just all those different ideas about what option do we want to take or is best for us.”
Graduation for the nearly 50 members of the Reedsport class of 2020 was planned for the first weekend in June and the hope is to have some sort of event around that time. Details for the ceremony will be discussed at next week’s school board meeting.
Regardless of what the ultimate celebration will look like, Uhling stressed the importance of highlighting the success of these seniors.
“It’s an accomplishment that needs and demands to be celebrated and it’s really important. Unfortunately, their graduation is going to be vastly different than any other graduation. Now if that’s a totally bad thing, I’m not sure. It’s definitely going to be a year that they won’t forget,” he said.
The World will cover graduation plans for the following school districts next week: Bandon, Myrtle Point, Powers, and Port Orford.