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News >  Spokane

Schools adjust to circumstances to send seniors off with plenty of pomp

Regional high schools have made special arrangements for this year’s graduating seniors. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Regional high schools have made special arrangements for this year’s graduating seniors. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

One thing for sure: It will be a graduation to remember for the high school class of 2020.

Expect to see some major car bling at a drive-in commencement near you. Also count on exuberant parents to pop out of their cars and cheer on their graduates.

That will be the new normal during the next two weeks for more than 5,000 high school graduates in Spokane County.

The old was swept away almost three months ago by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, schools have closed, prom boutonnieres have gone unpinned and yearbooks unsigned.

With those rites of passage snatched away, districts have scrambled to salvage what they can for graduation.

Instead of holding traditional gatherings of hundreds or thousands inside an arena or school gymnasium, districts were forced to alter their plans. And then change them again.

“I think we’re on iteration No. 43,” said Nine Mile Falls Superintendent Brian Talbott, who had held out hope for a large live event.

That didn’t happen, but Talbott promised a ceremony that will be “amazing.”

Not surprisingly, smaller districts have been able to offer a better graduation experience in the face of the restrictions.

“Definitely we’re a little more agile,” said Riverside Superintendent Ken Russell, whose 110 graduates are getting an outsized farewell that will include a drive-in ceremony, posters for every senior, a victory lap drive and their names painted on a grass berm near the school – and one more surprise to be named later.

Medical Lake expects to have the most spectacular ceremony of all: a drive-in commencement on the football field followed by a fireworks display.

“But no matter what, we’re all trying to do our best,” Freeman Superintendent Randy Russell said.

For most districts, that will mean some form of drive-by ceremony in which the graduate emerges from the family vehicle, walks onto a stage and receives a diploma while video and still photographers capture the moment.

Then it’s back in the car for the drive home. No one said it would be perfect.

“We realized early on that it would be difficult to find that Goldilocks moment that’s just right,” said Kelly Shea, superintendent at East Valley. “But we’re going to do the very best we can.”

Here’s a look at graduation plans around Spokane County:

Spokane Public Schools

Its plans for live ceremonies at Albi Stadium rebuffed by the state, Spokane Public Schools has opted to have each school produce a graduation video to celebrate seniors.

The five large comprehensive high schools – Lewis and Clark, Ferris, Rogers, North Central and Shadle Park – plus the OnTrack Academy, will film each graduate in cap and gown this weekend for videos that will be released in few weeks.

However, the filming is a closed-campus event due to the guidance and safety protocols relative to COVID-19. Families will be able to observe the ceremony from their cars.

Principals are communicating directly with seniors about their school’s plan, and the district hopes to have the videos broadcast later on KSPS.

Central Valley School District

The county’s second largest district, Central Valley, also will rely on videos and photos during closed-door ceremonies at each high school.

Moreover, masks will be required except during filming.

Central Valley’s nearly 500 graduates will begin five days of filming on Thursday at the school theater. University High School will do the same on June 8-11 for its 387 graduates. Mica Peak High will film its 61 graduates on June 10-11.

Mead Public Schools

At Mead, graduates will get not one, but three days of recognition. On Wednesday, seniors at Mead and Mt. Spokane high schools will walk individually to a stage and receive their diploma while being filmed and photographed.

On Thursday beginning at 9 a.m., the grads will hold a drive-thru in cap and gown at designated elementary schools.

Commencement will be on Friday, 5:30 p.m. for Mt. Spokane and 7 p.m. at Mead. Graduates and their families will drive through to their school, with the senior walking across a stage while being photographed.

“We heard loud and clear that families appreciate a virtual ceremony where they can celebrate in their own homes and share that celebration across the country while many people also wanted a face-to-face celebration,” the district said in a message to families. “We want that, too.”

East Valley High School

On June 8 at East Valley High School, graduates will get the red-carpet treatment and more.

Graduates will arrive in alphabetical order in family vehicles to the front entrance of the school, walk to a red carpet before receiving their diplomas while families and professionals take pictures.

“There was some talk of doing something later, but we didn’t want to chance waiting,” said Shea, who still hopes to have some sort of gathering later this summer on the EVHS football field.

Gonzaga Prep

The 200 graduates of Gonzaga Prep last week were treated to a virtual Mass and senior slide show.

However, the best is yet to come, Principal Cindy Reopelle said Monday as she described plans for a senior celebration day on July 31 and a baccalaureate Mass and graduation the following day at Bullpup Stadium on the G-Prep campus.

“Our seniors’ greatest desire is to have an in-person celebration of Baccalaureate Mass and Graduation – and we share their hope,” Reopelle said.

“We can easily socially distance on the football field, and of course we will have Mass,” Reopelle said. “All of us have been missing that engagement with our students – that’s probably been the toughest part.”

West Valley High School

At West Valley High School on June 14, graduates will drive to the school with their families 10 vehicles at a time and receive their diplomas while being filmed and photographed.

“We really had held out hope that we would be able to hold some kind of large gathering but as the rules came out it became apparent that it couldn’t happen,” said Superintendent Gene Sementi, who will retire at the end of June.

“We’re still hopeful that we can have some sort of barbecue later in the summer,” Sementi said.

Graduates of Spokane Valley and Dishman Hills high schools will get a more personal ceremony with staff members bringing diplomas and other gifts to their door.

Freeman High School

At Freeman High School the staff has put together a “great plan,” according to Superintendent Randy Russell.

The fun begins Saturday at 1 p.m. at the school with a drive-in ceremony in the nearby parking lot. Graduates will leave their vehicle, put on a mask and receive their diploma while the event is videoed and photographed.

Afterwards, Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies will pave the way for a vehicle parade that will take the graduates through Freeman, Rockford and Valleyford.

“Given the circumstances that we’re in, we are really proud that we can honor the seniors, because they deserve it,” Russell said.

Northwest Christian School

At Northwest Christian School, individual filming of the 44 graduates is ongoing ahead of a drive-in ceremony on Saturday at 11 a.m.

That’s when the 44 graduates will be honored on a large screen outside the school. Families will be able to hear speeches from each of the 10 valedictorians.

Lakeside High School

Graduates of Lakeside High School in Nine Mile Falls will be sent out with an evening drive-by ceremony on June 12 at the school.

The 120 seniors will arrive in waves at the parking lot and students, will walk up to a podium to receive their diplomas on a stage while their family vehicle pulls up within a few feet of the stairs.

Riverside High School

At Riverside High School on the evening of June 12, graduates and their families will drive to the school for a 90-minute ceremony that Superintendent Ken Russell describes as a “combo of what’s allowable.”

In another example of what smaller schools can pull off, Riverside families will cheer from their vehicles as the 110 grads walk to an outdoor stage and receive their diplomas.

As they do so, the moment will be captured by livestream, video and photographs.

Later, cars will take a victory lap involving community members who will honk their car horns and “cheer on the graduates,” Russell said.

The district also will put up signs on the school fence line that will recognize each graduate.

Another surprise is still in the works, Russell said.

Medical Lake High School

Medical Lake High School will hold a late-night ceremony on June 13 on the football field for its 130 graduates.

“We’ve done the math,” said Superintendent Timothy Ames, whose staff will mark off spaces for family vehicles.

Those cars will drive up in groups of five to the stage, where the graduates will receive their diplomas.

Medical Lake got an unexpected bonus when this year’s Founders Day celebration was canceled. The unused fireworks will now be put to good use in a celebration of the class of 2020.

Liberty High School

Liberty High School in Spangle will hold a virtual ceremony on Saturday at 1 p.m. No other details were available.

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