Families and seniors at Yelm High School will have four alternative options to the traditional graduation ceremony this year.
Yelm High School staff put forward the four options to the Yelm Community Schools Board of Directors and community during a special meeting on Thursday, May 14. The meeting was hosted online and was well-attended by curious families.
The alternatives work to comply with state-mandated social distancing measures and Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan to reopen the economy and large event gatherings.
The board took no action at the meeting. A survey was also sent out to the class of 2020 families on Friday gauging input on the four options and asking families to what extent they’d be willing to participate in each option.The board plans on making a decision at a later date after seeing the survey results.
Earlier this month, Inslee announced a four-phased approach to reopening Washington state, with each phase lasting a minimum of three weeks. This phased approach to reopening Washington has left many event organizers, school districts and businesses puzzled as there’s no definitive timeline on when or if the state will fully reopen this summer.
The state is currently in phase 1, and phase 2 is expected to begin at the start of June. The second phase would allow gatherings of up to five people outside your household and would allow a number of industries to reopen under restrictive guidance.
Following each of the options, the high school could hold a parade through Yelm city limits. Here are the four options presented during the meeting.
The proposed virtual ceremony option would be a partially-live, partially-recorded ceremony that would be hosted entirely online. Students would not be able to walk across stage to receive their diploma and students would not be allowed on campus.
One of the most prominent advantages of this option is that it would be the shortest option — about 90 minutes, which is similar in time to a regular ceremony — and there would be minimal staffing and supervision needs. It would also be programmed for the existing date for graduation, Sunday, June 14, and families would watch from home.
Student and honor speeches would be pre-recorded, although there would be a live address by the ceremony’s emcee, Principal John Johnson, the board, and the turning of tassels by the class president and Superintendent Brian Wharton. This option meets social distancing requirements proposed in phase 2 of the governor’s plan to reopen.
The proposed stadium option would be 100 percent recorded and would allow students to walk across a stage to receive their diploma in person. This option would be hosted at the high school stadium and students would only be allowed on campus during phase 4 of the governor’s plan, which would likely be planned for late summer or early fall.
During this option, high school staff would stagger families and graduates in and out of the venue to accommodate social distancing measures. It’s not currently known how many families would be allowed in the stadium at once and the limit on family sizes. These factors would also affect the length of the event, which hasn’t yet been estimated. This event would be combined with a recorded ceremony that would be posted to YouTube. The date for this option has yet to be determined.
The proposed walk-through ceremony would be hosted in the high school’s performing arts center and feature two additional options to either host just students or have a small number of family members on campus.
Like the stadium option, this option would also be 100 percent recorded and live streamed, and would be posted at an unspecified date. Students’ time on campus would also be staggered. All students and those involved would be required to wear masks.
The ceremony would first start as students drive through Tornado Alley and arrive in the PAC. Student’s names would then be read, they’d receive their diplomas, then would leave immediately to their vehicle.
The time of this event could take anywhere from six hours to more than 32 hours, depending on if families are allowed to arrive with their graduates in person.
According to Johnson, including families in person for this option could take up to four days to conduct and the high school would have to wait until the state is in phase 3. With no families present, the school could move forward with the ceremony in phase 2.
Yelm High School’s fourth option, the proposed drive-through ceremony, would also be 100 percent live recorded and would feature a parade-style drive through the high school’s main campus. The main factor in this option would be the weather, as it would be outside and hosted on a specific date, June 14, at 10 a.m.
High school staff and district officials would set up shop at the giant circle and would hand off diplomas to seniors in passing vehicles. This event would be live broadcasted and later posted to YouTube.
Students would enter the ceremony through Tornado Alley in a vehicle with their family and wind through the parking lot to the center of campus. Families would pull up in front of the circle, the student would then exit the vehicle and accept their diploma, pose for a photo, then get back in their vehicle.
This event could take more than six hours to complete, and students and their families would have staggered times to show up. The wait for a diploma could take upwards of one hour. This option does satisfy the governor’s phase 2 social distancing guidelines. Aside from one of the walk-through ceremony options, this is the only option where students would have a limited number of family members able to see their graduation in person.
Decisions and Discussion
Following the options presented by Johnson and Superintendent Brian Wharton, board members expressed appreciation for the high school staff and the work they’d done to bring these options forward.
Board Director Donna Edwards said she loves the idea of the drive-through and having it on the day of the graduation ceremony, and Director Mark Rohwedder agreed.
“That’s probably the closest we can come to a real graduation ceremony,” Edwards said. “And I think there are some things that could probably look into doing that would enhance it even more. I don’t know how parents are going to feel, but if it were me or my daughter I’d really love to see that come to fruition and I think we could do some really neat stuff.”
Wharton said cost for any of the alternative ceremonies shouldn’t be a problem for the district as staff were recently notified from the Tacoma Dome that the district would be receiving a full refund for the ceremony it would have hosted at the location in June.
Director Debbie Edwards said their decision should be based on what the kids and parents want.
“We’ve always thought out of the box, Yelm has. And I think you guys have touched all bases and done an excellent job,” she said.
During the meeting on Thursday, the board also received comments from five community members, which included at least one high schooler, who advocated for an in-person ceremony.
YHS Senior Laken Welsh, one of the public commenters, recently organized an online petition — reportedly on behalf of the more than 340 seniors who will be graduating — to hold a socially-distanced, in-person ceremony.
“Schools such as Prattville High School in Alabama have organized ceremonies where graduates are grouped into appropriate and state approved numbers,” she wrote. “One by one (socially distanced), with no hand shaking and receiving their diploma from a gloved person, those seniors walked across their stage with diploma in hand and wicked smiles on their faces. There was no audience, only a few administrators, the other graduates, and a phone streaming to Facebook live were in attendance. This method could be reworked and instituted here in Yelm. I do not want my 12 years of hard work to be celebrated by logging into my Macbook. Do you? If you are a parent, do you want that for your senior?”
The petition recorded approximately 993 supporters in the few days it was active.
“One way or another we’re going to make something happen that these kids are going to remember with fond memories,” Donna Edwards said.
“Let’s just hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Rohwedder added.