When Lacey Young was told that Selah High School would not have its traditional graduation ceremony because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it broke her heart.
“I cried a lot,” Lacey said. “I thought it was the end of the world.”
But Selah school administrators and faculty decided that if students couldn’t come to graduation, they would bring graduation to the students.
About 75 faculty and administrators took to the roads to deliver high school diplomas to about 250 members of the graduating class, conducting a brief ceremony in front of each student’s house or, for Lacey and another student, in front of the school. Each senior was given his or her diploma in its cover, a class T-shirt incorporating a respirator mask and roll of toilet paper in the design, and a gift bag containing gift certificates donated by local businesses.
“We have some of the most amazing students at Selah High, and they deserve to be recognized,” Selah principal Colton Monti said.
Change in plans
The deliveries in Selah are part of efforts to celebrate graduating seniors who were losing a traditional milestone due to the coronavirus pandemic. Traditional in-person ceremonies, which normally involve hundreds of graduates and well-wishers, were out of the question.
School districts around the county were forced to revamp celebrations again after Yakima County remained in Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plans this month because of a high number of cases. Under Phase 1, people aren’t supposed to gather or take part in social activities with people outside their households. The state Department of Health only recommends drive-in and drive-through ceremonies in Phase 2 and above.
In Sunnyside, the second-largest district in the county, a ceremony with speeches by the valedictorian, salutatorian and class speaker were broadcast online.
West Valley also had a virtual graduation ceremony, along with fireworks, on Friday. A drive-in ceremony in West Valley where graduates were planning to walk across a stage was called off due to insurance limits.
People found other ways to celebrate. About 10 West Valley High School graduates in caps and gowns gathered along with family members and friends at West Valley Community Park for an unofficial ceremony. Family and friends clustered around cars parked in the middle section of the park near the basketball court, where half a dozen young men were playing ball. Some of the cars had congratulatory messages on windows.
At another location in West Valley, the Cross Church on Summitview Avenue near the intersection with 88th Avenue, a long line of cars waited to pull through the church parking lot. Graduates took turns getting out and standing on a small makeshift stage for photos.
Back in Selah, teachers and administrators fanned out through town to bring students their diplomas in person, observing social distancing while recognizing the students. Their cars were festooned with balloons and painted signs celebrating the class of 2020.
History teacher Bryan Dibble drove his 1942 Jeep to remind his students of both his love for history as well as commemorate the D-Day landings at Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.
“These kids have had me since eighth grade,” Dibble said. “They know I love history.”
He said the substitute ceremony was a good way to honor students, but he hoped that next year’s graduation will be more traditional.
Assistant Principal Becca Thompson, whose group stayed at the school to give out a couple diplomas before heading out, was pleased with how the ceremony worked out.
“I think it is far better to do this than to do a video,” Thompson said.
Monti said Selah’s ceremony allowed for the students to be individually recognized for their achievements.
Alexsandra Vargas was graduating with both a high-school diploma and an associate degree in science.
“I thought it was nice,” Alexsandra said of getting her diploma from Thompson in front of the school.
Her mother, Griselda Vargas, was happy to see her daughter get a graduation ceremony, even if it was abbreviated.
“I get emotional,” Vargas said.
A pre-recorded Selah video commencement will be released at 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by a graduate cruise down First Street in the afternoon. Community members are asked not to gather along the street. At 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Selah will have fireworks.