Limited graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 to be held at Grayling High School on Sunday, May 31
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Proud is an understatement when reflecting on the effort put forth by the Class of 2020 during these uncertain and unprecedented times. They have risen above and worked hard to finish strong. My advice to them is to use this experience as their passion to continue to rise above. I’m excited to see the amazing things they will do with their lives.” – Grayling High School Principal Sarah Allen
Members of the Class of 2020 left Grayling High School on Friday, March 13, at the end of a planned half-day of school, not knowing that it was the end of their time there, not knowing that the COVID-19 pandemic would take away so much of their senior year.
No senior prom. No senior send-off. No awards ceremonies.
Instead, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, “alternatives to in-person learning,” honors nights on video.
No sports. No more chances to pursue state titles, regional titles, district championships, school records, the fun of competing together with friends and classmates. No opportunity to step onto the fields, the track, the court, to savor the last moments of high school sports.
Instead, events cancelled, no gatherings allowed.
It happened so fast. One day, school as normal, the next day, activities cancelled, never to resume.
The COVID-19 situation has forced the cancellation of professional sports games and seasons, the NCAA’s March Madness tournament, festivals, concerts, holiday events. In northern Michigan, the coronavirus pandemic forced the Traverse City Cherry Festival, the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, Gaylord’s Alpenfest, Kalkaska’s Trout Festival, and many other events to be cancelled in 2020.
COVID-19, as of Friday, May 22, has killed more than 93,000 people in the United States, according to the Centers For Disease Control. The death toll in the state of Michigan due to COVID-19, as of Friday, May 22, was more than 5,100, according to www.michigan.gov.
Members of the Class of 2020 were born during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a time that featured a brief period of events being postponed or cancelled throughout the United States.
“We entered this world during a time of uncertainty, and 18 years later, we depart into a thicker cloud of the unknown. How incredible is it that, despite this, we still grow and pursue beautiful dreams,” said Madison Hehir, valedictorian for Grayling High School’s Class of 2020, in her graduation speech.
(According to school officials, the valedictorian and salutatorian speeches were recorded for radio and video coverage of the upcoming commencement ceremony.)
“I know how devastating it is for us to lose some of these most precious lasts: our last day of school, our last prom, and for some of us, our last chance to say goodbye to our friends. But we can’t dwell on what we’ve lost, or we’ll be stuck in the past forever. Winston Churchill once said, ‘if we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future,’ and so for that very reason we must keep our heads held high as we walk into this next chapter of our lives. We can’t lose the future, too,” Hehir said.
Grayling High School will host a limited commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 31.
School officials have been working on graduation plans for weeks.
“We started discussing graduation pretty early on when the pandemic hit as we know this is a very important ceremony for our seniors and their families,” said Grayling High School Principal Sarah Allen. “At no time did we consider canceling altogether. Our main goal from the beginning was to give our seniors some type of celebration. We wanted to do as much as we could, but knew safety had to be number one.”
Allen said school officials “consulted with other school principals” and “other school superintendents, as well as law enforcement and emergency management” before making a decision. Allen said she also took input from students and parents.
At first, the school announced a commencement ceremony plan that would have had the graduates going into the school alone to receive their diplomas and Project Graduation gift bags; however, following the announcement of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-92 on Monday, May 18, school officials re-worked their plan due to the order’s lessening of restrictions in Region 6 of the state, which includes Crawford County.
The new plan allows graduates to be accompanied by parents or guardians when they enter the school to receive their diplomas.
“Last week we announced our graduation plan. Based on the changes to Governor Whitmer’s most recent executive order, we have updated our plan. We have made the decision to allow parents, stepparents, or guardians to accompany their graduate for the individual ceremony,” Allen announced in a letter to Class of 2020 parents and students.
The school is allowing “one vehicle per graduate” for the event.
“Cars will enter through the teacher/bus south entrance. From there you will be directed to drive around the back of the school,” according to the updated plan.
“Only cars with graduates will be allowed on campus,” according to the plan. “No siblings, grandparents, extended family, godparents or family friends may exit the vehicle. Other than the individual graduates (and their parents, stepparents or guardian), only our high school staff working graduation, law enforcement, and other first responders are allowed outside of the vehicles while on school grounds.”
“Graduates are expected to arrive dressed in your cap and gown with the tassel on the right,” according to the plan.
Part of the new plan involved expanding the length of the commencement ceremony due to the addition of allowing parents and guardians to participate. With the extension, the school created specific time slots for the graduates with groups slated to arrive at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3 p.m.
The plan says that formal photos of the commencement ceremony by Marlana’s Digital Creations will be mailed to graduates at no cost to them.
A podcast and video of the event will also be available, school officials said.
“Blarney Stone Broadcasting will be broadcasting a prerecorded ceremony on Q100.3, WQON and it will be available via podcast at q100-fm.com for all graduates, families, staff, and our community to listen from their radio at 4 p.m. Each graduate will be filmed as they walk across the stage and we plan to sync this to the podcast from Blarney Stone Broadcasting for a graduation ceremony video. This will be released in the weeks following the ceremony,” according to the plan.
“This was a very tough decision to make and we made it because of safety after consulting with law enforcement and emergency management; however, with Governor Whitmer doing a partial opening of Region 6 we felt we should take another look at our plan to allow parents, stepparents, or legal guardians to watch their child walk across the stage. I am extremely happy that we are able to make this happen as I know it is very important to our graduates and their families,” Allen said.
The school has put forth other efforts to recognize the Class of 2020, including distribution of yard signs and creation of videos to replace live awards ceremonies.
Allen said she’s missed interacting with students during the school closure.
“Delivering yard signs was one of the best days I have had since the pandemic started. I didn’t realize how much I needed to see our students until Mrs. Krabill and I had the opportunity to see some of their faces over the last week. We were able to visit 86 of our Viking families this week to congratulate them on their upcoming graduation. Every student we talked to said they wished we were in school and all I want is for our kids to be back in the building,” Allen said. “We also put together an athletic awards video and a senior honors night video. They were posted on May 14 and May 20 for the graduates to watch with their families.”
The two awards videos are available on YouTube. The links are available at the Grayling High School Facebook page.
“As this year has proven, the Class of 2020 can overcome outstanding hardships,” said Georgia Barber, Class of 2020 salutatorian, in her commencement speech. “Similarly to how the past three months do not define our past thirteen years of accomplishments, do not let the detours of life inhibit your growth. Graduating high school is not the end of something, but it is the start of all the things we have been prepared to achieve.”
“As we charge towards our dreams in life, Class of 2020, I urge you, don’t ever forget. Don’t forget the precious moments you had with your friends. Don’t forget your teachers, coaches, and parents who guided you and believed in you. Don’t forget those fights you had with a sibling or best friend, or even the heartbreaks you experienced. All of these will make you a stronger, kinder person ready to help those in need and change the world,” Hehir said in her valedictorian speech.
“Proud is an understatement when reflecting on the effort put forth by the Class of 2020 during these uncertain and unprecedented times,” Allen said. “They have risen above and worked hard to finish strong. My advice to them is to use this experience as their passion to continue to rise above. I’m excited to see the amazing things they will do with their lives.”
For more on the Class of 2020 and its commencement ceremony, check out Pages 1-8B, the Crawford County Avalanche’s annual graduation section.