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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Can’t express how proud I am’: After pandemic year, Shadle Park seniors graduate high school at Riverfront Park Pavilion

A Shadle Park graduate takes his diploma and is silhouetted against a sunny sky and the canopy of the Pavilion on Saturday during a graduation ceremony held for Shadle Park High School at Riverfront Park in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

All things considered, Saturday was a great day to graduate from Shadle Park High School.

In the context of the past 15 months, it was almost perfect.

That included the weather, which served as a metaphor for the entire year. By the time families and loved ones took their seats at the Pavilion in Riverfront Park, the threat of rain had yielded to sunny skies and puffy clouds.

The seats weren’t bad either: slopes of lush grass to match the Kelly green robes of the graduates.

Nearby, the overflow crowd was watching the livestreamed event in lounge chairs under the Riverfront Park Clock Tower.

Near nature, near perfect, as they say. And the class of 2021 deserves a break. As they waited before commencement, the graduates reveled in reaching the finish line together. They also got in their hugs, which wouldn’t be allowed during the ceremony.

The coronavirus pandemic was never far below the surface on Saturday.

While masks were seldom worn by guests, they were required for the graduates, who also sat 6 feet apart.

No mask, however, could hide the smile of senior Madeline Depner. She was honored earlier this spring by the Spokane Scholars Foundation and had just been awarded a scholarship to study at Eastern Washington University.

“I’m just real excited, and I can’t wait to go out to lunch with my parents and celebrate,” Depner said before the ceremony.

Another academic honoree, Malachi Lake, looked back on a year “that’s been a little rough,” but felt like exhaling before he goes on to study criminal justice at Eastern Washington University.

Associated Student Body President Tom Carr congratulated his classmates for persevering through online classes, cohorts and all the other encumbrances of COVID-19.

“I can’t express how proud I am,” Carr said.

Adam Swinyard, the Superintendent of Spokane Public Schools, extended the same emotion to the families, neighbors and friends “for coming along with us in this unprecedented moment.”

Swinyard also held out the hope of a “better tomorrow,” while Shadle Principal Julie Lee took it from there in her final commencement before retirement.

Seizing one last teachable moment, Lee sought to welcome the 274 grads “to the next stage or your lives.” Then she used a nature analogy by asking them whether they will choose to be “the river or the rock.”

Lee asked the grads to take the lessons of the pandemic into adulthood, to “be the river going over and around” the obstacles of life.

Then again, the seniors had been doing that since the spring of 2020, going with the flow even when it bypassed homecoming, the Groovy Shoes rivalry with North Central “and even a prom sanctioned by your high school, for goodness’ sake,” Lee said.

“You have become the river,” Lee said. “Remember the sacrifices you overcame while concentrating on your academics to finish high school. … and this will be a story to tell to your children and grandchildren.”

At least one grad will be able to share that story with his father.

As he waited to enter the Pavilion, Nate Klimper looked back on a year of great accomplishment. A Spokane Scholars honoree in fine arts, he also wore honor cords – for membership in the National Honor Society, being an AP scholar and a four-year member of the choir.

Hidden beneath the other medals was one more. It was sent to Klimper from his father’s employer, the United States Department of State.

A bigger gift came Thursday, when his father, Scott, returned from a long stint in Afghanistan.

“It’s cool to see him,” Nate Klimper said. “I really missed him, and I want to tell him that I’ve done something these last four years.”

Shadle Park’s was the first of six graduations at the Pavilion. North Central followed later on Saturday.

On Sunday, the pomp begins at noon with the graduates of Lewis and Clark. Ferris follows at 3:30 p.m. and Rogers at 7 .

The Community School will hold commencement Monday at 7 p.m.