Graduates Toss Their Caps

Mortar boards flew into the air at the end of Yelm High School's graduation in 2017.

Yelm and Rainier high schools are moving forward with alternative graduation ceremonies as the state eases state-mandated social distancing orders — just not in time for large-scale traditional ceremonies often held with hundreds of attendees.

The decisions were finalized at a pair of school board meetings where principals at the two schools detailed their commitment to planning and executing partly-virtual graduation ceremonies with aspects of planned processions.

The two districts are planning different ceremonies with many of the same themes.

Rainier’s graduation ceremony will be largely a virtual one with a procession through the city limits afterward. Yelm plans on putting on a partly virtual ceremony with a drive-through diploma pickup procession through the campus later in the day.

At a May 20 board meeting, Rainier High School Principal John Beckman said his staff had chosen to move forward with a virtual graduation ceremony that would be pre-recorded with each individual senior picking up their diplomas.

“I think we’re going to do them justice. I hope so,” he said.

High school staff plan on publishing the video online at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 5, the day originally planned for the in-person ceremony.

Plans are currently being made to hold a parade-style procession through and around Rainier’s downtown corridor, Beckman said. During this ceremony, students would be advised to wear their cap and gowns for the community to see.

“I’m sad that they’re going but I’m excited they’re moving on and they’re being resilient,” he said.

Details on the procession, which is being planned for a 7 p.m. start in the Rainier High School parking lot, will be published soon.

At Yelm Community Schools, the board of directors on Thursday, May 21, voted unanimously to proceed with a drive-through ceremony in place of the traditional ceremony usually held at the Tacoma Dome.

After the high school staff brought forward four options to the board at a previous meeting, the district put out a survey to find out what option would best represent the interests and spirit of the graduating class. About 430 surveys were returned, 40 percent from students and 60 percent from the parents.

The favorite for responders was the drive-through ceremony, followed by a staggered option at the stadium, a walk-through option at the performing arts center and a completely virtual ceremony.

The district plans on organizing a separate parade possibly at a later date as well.

The drive-through option will take place on Sunday, June 14, and feature a pre-recorded ceremony with a broadcasted convoy through campus where students pick up their degrees in person at the Tornado sendoff area.

This option allows families to be with their graduates in their vehicles and see them pick up their diploma in person. This ceremony is expected to take more than six hours with staggered arrival times for the district to conduct, but staff expects families to only wait about an hour from the time they arrive to the time they depart campus.

The ceremony is expected to start at 10 a.m.

“I think that we all in our heart want what’s best for our students, however that graduation looks,” said Director Debbie Edwards, adding that she thinks the district and staff have done an excellent job in planning within the social distancing mandates. “I don’t know what else we could have come up with for this. We can’t give the students what they want … We never dreamt we’d be in this situation.”

Director Mark Rohwedder took the opportunity to flip the perspective on a brighter note.

“We’re just under some difficult times and restraints right now and unfortunately graduation’s going to be different than it has in the past. But I’m excited to do something different,” he said. “I’m just really excited to change it up a little bit and see if we can pull it off, and give them something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

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