Note: Since this story was published, the Yakima Health District has clarified that no districts in Yakima County will be allowed to have in-person or drive-in commencements. Read the updated story here.
Yakima County high school commencements will kick off Friday evening with a collection of nontraditional ceremonies.
In Sunnyside, the second-largest district in the county, a ceremony with speeches by the valedictorian, salutatorian and class speaker will be broadcast on www.jeffplace.com beginning at 6 p.m. The event will be filmed live from the high school gym. While the 450 seniors won’t be at the ceremony in person, each graduate’s name will be announced during the broadcast.
The plan replaces a proposal for a drive-up ceremony in an effort to protect student safety. The decision was made based on conversations with the Yakima Health District. Once the county moves into Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, the district will announce arrangements for students to walk across a stage in celebration.
West Valley School District plans to honor graduates Friday with a drive-up ceremony beginning at 6 p.m. Students will drive with family members to a stage, where the graduate alone will exit the car to walk across a stage, receive their diploma or diploma cover and have a photo taken before returning to their car.
The event will be livestreamed. West Valley also plans to have a video with speeches, musical performances and the class charge available on the West Valley HS Rams YouTube channel at 4 p.m. Friday.
District communications director Anjerie Nemrow said the district had approval from the Yakima Health District to proceed with its plans.
Mabton and Toppenish school districts previously said they had plans for similar drive-up ceremonies beginning at 6 p.m. Friday
West Valley arranged for a fireworks show beginning at 9:30 p.m. Community members are asked to view the show from home, as it will be big and loud enough to enjoy from a distance. School district officials asked that community members tend to their pets as needed.
In Selah, a fireworks show is also planned Saturday beginning at 8:30 p.m. in the lower parking lot of the high school. Graduates are welcome to attend the event but will be asked to remain in their cars and maintain proper social distancing.
The fireworks show will follow a recorded graduation video release at 11 a.m. featuring speeches and musical numbers, as well as a graduate cruise down First Street in Selah. Community members are asked not to gather along the street.
Friday night, graduating seniors can also expect a visit from small groups of school staff who will be delivering care packages and diplomas door-to-door, much like course packages have been delivered to during the COVID-19-related campus closures, said district superintendent Shane Backlund. After placing the diploma and package on the doorstep, staff will knock or ring the doorbell, step back, give a celebratory wave, take a picture of the graduate and move onto the next house.
“My heart goes out to the class of 2020. They are being disproportionately impacted by the statewide closures with the cancellation of some of those long-held traditions of being a senior,” said Backlund. “But this class will leave our system with additional resilience and grace that will serve them well in their futures.”
More graduation celebrations will continue throughout the Valley next week.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Selah graduates were pre-recorded walking across a stage. They were not.