No one just rolls out of bed on a Monday morning and graduates from high school, but the folks in Cheney just pulled it off.
And they did it without pulling off their masks – most of the time.
After 10 weeks of virtual living and learning, this was as real as it gets, a rite of passage that couldn’t be sanitized even with a truckload of Purell.
For Cheney High School senior Christopher Brooks, it came on the stage of the school’s new auditorium.
As a videographer captured the moment and his parents aimed their camera phones, Brooks turned toward his 7-year-old sister, Jordyn.
Then Jordyn walked toward her brother and presented Brooks with his mock diploma. Everything else was genuine, especially the emotions.
In the back stood Superintendent Robert Roettger, betraying emotions that no mask could hide.
“I think I’m about to cry,” Roettger said.
“I think we all were,” said Brooks’ mother, Laura.
For decades, Cheney High has sent off its seniors in a packed gym at nearby Eastern Washington University.
Then came COVID-19 and social-distancing mandates that forced Roettger and Principal Troy Heuett into a backup plan. They also faced the pressure of being the first school in Spokane County to hold commencement in these strange times.
They finally settled on plan D, a four-day ceremony in which 280 graduates and their families arrive in the parking lot, walk into the building and pose for photos.
Mask-wearing staffers were everywhere. So was the Purell.
“It’s weird, but I’m just really grateful that we get to have something,” senior Kassie Brennan said as she stood with her mother Celina.
Mom was proud, and why not? Brennan will enter EWU this fall as a sophomore, thanks to her hard work and the Running Start program.
“We’re just so proud that she’s gotten so far,” Celina said. “No matter what the graduation looks like we would be proud of her accomplishments.”
What Brennan and her classmates didn’t have was each other. It’s been 10 weeks since schools were shuttered, and walking down an empty hall just wasn’t the same thing.
“Mostly, I think the hardest part was not being able to say goodbye to a lot of people and especially my teachers,” said Brennan, who will attend EWU.
“Those little moments with friends and teachers,” Brennan said.
It was the same for Charlotte Bigelow, who said she missed her friends, but consoled herself by working harder in class and looking forward to attending Washington State University this fall.
“Things are stressful, but I’m excited,”Bigelow said.
After the ceremonies, graduates and their families emerged onto the south side of the high school and exchanged hugs.
Christopher’s journey complete, the Brooks family reflected on the journey, especially the bumps down the final stretch.
Like other families, the Brookses had to balance work and the pitfalls of distance learning for three children.
“Chris had a hard time adjusting to the online school platform time, and it was a challenge,” said his father Howard.
Then they walked toward the football field, recently decorated with the names of all the seniors.
There will be more pomp for these strange circumstances. On Friday night Cheney will host the “Hour of Greatness,” as buses will lead a vehicle parade through the community.
By then, posters honoring each student – taken in before Saturday’s thunderstorm – will be back on display.
“We think it will be very special,” Heuett said.
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