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‘It really was amazing’: Grads give Spokane schools high marks for unprecedented commencements

Nikyia Anderson, 18, arrives at the Rogers High School drive-thru graduation ceremony Saturday. Graduating seniors were able to walk the stage and receive their diplomas as family and friends cheered and took pictures from their cars. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

As the graduates of Ferris High School drove off campus onto 37th Avenue on Saturday morning, they were greeted with a large poster.

“You did it!” the sign proclaimed in letters so big that no one could forget. Not that anyone will, but the sign still meant a lot. And not just for the grads.

Officials at Spokane Public Schools didn’t only pull off a meaningful graduation ceremony in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, they did even better than usual in the view of many families.

On a sunny morning, families pulled up in decorated vehicles at Rogers, North Central and Ferris high schools and watched their sons and daughters accept their diploma covers from their principals.

While the graduates posed for professional videos and photos, proud parents pulled out cellphones from 20 feet away to preserve those precious memories.

That never happened at the Spokane Memorial Veterans Arena, where the district held commencement until social distancing forced them into Plan B – a sit-down ceremony at Albi Stadium – until that too was nixed by the state.

Saturday marked the realization of Plan C, and by most accounts it couldn’t have gone any better – except perhaps the 6 a.m. wake-up if your last name happened to start with “A.”

“I was really nervous about it,” Rogers senior Katelyn Anderson said after receiving her diploma.

“It is kind of weird, because I was expecting something totally different,” said Anderson, taking in the scene.

Principal Lori Wyborney wore gloves and a Rogers face mask while handing out diploma covers while a speaker blared out “Pomp and Circumstance” from a recording made by the school’s steel drum band.

Most important, her family was close enough to ask Anderson to pose for their videos.

None of that would have happened at the Arena.

“But they still would have brought signs and balloons and go crazy like they’re doing now,” Anderson said.

They also went crazy at NC, where grads pulled up to the front entrance and got a thumbs-up from Principal Steve Fisk along with their diploma covers.

“It really was amazing, and better than I thought it would have been,” graduate Kayla Adeniran said.

Her mother, Joella, was even more effusive.

“This was really amazing what the district did for the kids,” she said. “They really went out of their way to make it special.”

What the grads didn’t have was each other. That was the biggest concession to the coronavirus – the lost chance at final hugs and big parties.

On Saturday, most families settled for small gatherings.

“But we’ll have a big party in a month or two,” Joella Adeniran said.

A few minutes later, up pulled NC grad Sierra Bevins under a huge balloon.

“Princess Grad,” it proclaimed.

This wasn’t prom, but the sentiment was there, and Bevins appreciated it.

“This was a lot of fun,” Bevins said. “Different, but exciting.”

At Ferris, Principal Ken Schutz presided over a ceremony that was far more picturesque than anything inside an arena.

Vehicles arrived from Regal Street, drove behind the school and pulled in front of the stage to a backdrop of pine trees and Browne’s Mountain.

Along the way, the grads were treated to encouraging signs: “Don’t Stop Dreaming,” one said in school colors of red and white.

A few were dreaming of a better graduation experience, but reality was pretty good.

“It’s been really nice,” senior Adela Alimamovic said. “It feels good to know that we’re being honored, no matter what.”

The fun continues Sunday. Shadle Park will host graduation at the school, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Festivities for Lewis and Clark will happen at Hart Field from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.