Area High Schools Restructure Graduations

This year’s high school graduates will still receive pomp but under some very different circumstances.

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, area seniors have lost many anticipated final school memories— spring sports, prom and class trips, to name a few.

But they won’t be deprived of graduation.

For some school districts, the plans are set but remain tentative depending on the pandemic. Other districts are waiting until this month’s school board meetings to make decisions.

Regardless, the schools are determined to provide a send-off for the Class of 2020 — even if it isn’t the traditional walk down the aisle in school gyms.

Some schools will graduate this month, while others will wait until sometime this summer.

While some schools are opting for a virtual ceremony, others are using settings ranging from gyms and parking lots to football stadiums and powwow grounds. And for Native American students, it can include the feather ceremony which has become an important part of the traditions.

The following is a roundup of area school districts’ plans where available.

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• ANDES CENTRAL: Graduation will be held May 16, with a 1 p.m. feather ceremony and 3 p.m. commencement, according to Principal Bill Hummel.

“We only have a class of five graduates, so we will be holding the ceremony outdoors at the football stadium. If we have bad weather, we will move to the main gym,” he said.

“The seniors will be given invitation tickets to hand out to immediate family. Only those invitation holders will be allowed inside the stadium or gym. Precautions are being taken for social distancing when it comes to seating in both venues. We’ll attempt to livestream the ceremony or broadcast it on the radio.”

Rather than receive congratulations in a receiving line, the graduates will literally take to the streets, Hummel said.

“Seniors will parade in cars through Lake Andes after the ceremony for well-wishers to express their support for them,” he said.

• ARMOUR: The school district has moved its graduation date to 2 p.m. June 27 with a back-up date of 2 p.m. July 25, according to Superintendent Andrea Powell.

• AVON: School officials are holding a Zoom meeting Wednesday with seniors and their parents, according to Superintendent Tom Culver.

“Our plan right now is holding the ceremony on May 17 at our football field. It will only be seniors and their parents present,” he said. “We’ll also be livestreaming the ceremony. We’ll make sure we are social distancing at all times.”

Culver hasn’t seen many seniors since the pandemic started and the school was closed for classes.

“I have talked to some parents and I know they feel bad for their kids, like we all do,” he said. “This should be a happy time that they have reached this milestone, but I am sure it does not feel the same as previous classes. I think they are all doing the best they can to make the best of the situation.”

• BERESFORD: The school district will honor the Class of 2020 with a virtual graduation ceremony at 2 p.m. May 16, according to Superintendent Brian Field.

“An embedded link to the video will be provided May 16 to our seniors, their families, friends and community through our district’s social media,” Field said.

“The district is also working with its senior parents to help organize a 64-car graduate caravan through the city of Beresford to celebrate and recognize our graduates on Saturday, May 16, at 4 p.m. The Beresford Police Department will assist in leading and following the BHS Class of 2020 graduate caravan.”

Should social distancing recommendations and guidelines change, the district will hold an outdoor graduation ceremony at the stadium at 2 p.m. on July 25, Aug. 1 or Aug. 8, Field said.

• BLOOMFIELD, Neb. — The school district will hold a May 9 virtual graduation, with an official graduation scheduled for August, if allowed, according to Superintendent Shane Alexander.

• BON HOMME: The district has postponed its graduation from the original May 16 date, according to Superintendent Brad Peters. The school board will discuss future plans at next week’s board meeting, looking at alternative graduation dates of June 27 and July 25.

“My preference is to hold graduation on June 27, if at all possible,” Peters said. “How the graduation will look depends on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines at that time. (Graduation) will probably be conducted in an alternative, limited format.”

• CENTERVILLE: Graduation is set for 10 a.m. May 16 at the football field, according to the school website.

• CREIGHTON, Neb.: The school district has rescheduled graduation for 2 p.m. June 13, according to the Creighton News. The ceremony will be held in either a traditional ceremony or a ceremony in the south parking lot, as health regulations permit.

If health conditions only allow for the outdoors ceremony, the rain date has been set for 2 p.m. June 14. If health conditions do not allow for any of the above two options, administration will meet with parents to discuss other possibilities.

• CROFTON, Neb.: Graduation will take place at 2 p.m. Aug. 2, according to Superintendent Christopher Look. “We will have a traditional ceremony, if possible; an alternative option; or if all restrictions are still in place, then a virtual ceremony,” he said.

• DAKOTA VALLEY:  The school district is looking at ways to honor the seniors May 9 and possibly with some other activities.

• ELK POINT-JEFFERSON: A “virtual” graduation will be held May 16, according to Superintendent Derek Barrios. The district is working with Fuller Digital Solution, to produce videos for the awards banquet and graduation video.

• FREEMAN ACADEMY: The school is moving ahead with its regularly scheduled May 16 date, according to Nathan Epp, head of the school.

“This will be a ‘drive in’ graduation. It is by invite only to help limit the number of people there,” he said. “We will have a sound system and also an FM transmitter so attendees can tune in on their radio.”

The program will start at 8:15 p.m. in order to show the Senior Class slideshow outdoors in the dark, Epp said. The commencement program will be recorded, and a link will be sent out for others to view the program later.

“We involved the seniors in the planning of it so we tried to incorporate aspects that they wanted,” Epp said. “I also wanted to share that we have talked through our plans with local health professionals to get their ideas on how we can do this with as limited exposure as possible even though it will be a pretty small group. Their advice has been helpful.”

• FREEMAN PUBLIC: A graduation ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. May 16 at the outdoor athletic complex. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the event will be held at 2 p.m. May 17. The ceremony is closed to the public, with access limited to the graduating class, parents and siblings.

The ceremony will be streamed by internet, with effort to also broadcast the ceremony live on Golden West Channel 90, according to Superintendent Kevin Kunz. The ceremony will be followed by a parade of the graduates on a pre-determined route.

“On the evening of May 16, — time to be determined — we would like to offer an encore showing of the graduation ceremony in a ‘drive-up’ style viewing,” Kunz said. “We would project a recording of the ceremony on to a large screen and allow students, parents, families and community members to watch the ceremony from their vehicles in the school parking lot.

“Likewise, we would like to give the senior class and opportunity to present their senior class PowerPoint/slide show at this time. Again, we are still working on finalizing the specific details of this event, but at this point we do believe we should be able to make it happen.”

• GAYVILLE-VOLIN: The school district will honors its 17 graduates at 2 p.m. May 23 in an open-air ceremony held on the school campus, according to Superintendent Jason Selchert.

“We will allow (graduates) to participate in person, as it is easy enough to social distance,” Selchert said. “At the time this decision was made, administration and the Board of Education was not allowing spectators, we will revisit this decision at the May 11 meeting and will entertain it only if it can be limited in scope and able to be implemented while still following CDC and South Dakota Department of Health guidelines and recommendations.”

The ceremony will utilize technology, Selchert said.

“In order to maintain the well-being of all involved, there will be no microphone and podium sharing, so all speeches and honors done through video presentation. Part of our ceremony is the senior video, honoring the graduates; obviously, this, too, (will be) done virtually,” he said.

“The whole ceremony will try to take the same shape as the normal ceremony with recognitions and performances done in a safe environment, recorded and then live streamed at the appropriate times.”

• HARTINGTON-NEWCASTLE (Neb.): The school plans to hold graduation exercises Aug. 1, according to Superintendent A.J. Johnson.

“We would like to have as much of the traditional ceremony as possible, but we will consult with state and local health departments as the date grows closer to determine exactly what the ceremony can look like,” he said. “We will do something on this date, even if it can’t be the traditional ceremony.”

• HARTINGTON (Neb.) CEDAR CATHOLIC:  The school has scheduled its commencement exercises for 2 p.m. Aug. 2. No further details were available at press time.

• IRENE-WAKONDA: Graduation, originally scheduled May 16, has been postponed and will be revisited at the May school board meeting, according to Superintendent Dave Hutchison.

“At that time, we’ll have a better direction on what options will be available to recognize our graduating seniors,” he said.

• MARION: Graduation is listed as 2 p.m. May 16. No further details were immediately available.

• MARTY: Graduation is scheduled for noon May 15 as an outdoor event at the Fort Randall Casino powwow grounds, according to Superintendent John Beheler.

“We encourage social distancing and to even stay home and watch the ceremony on YouTube. It will also be broadcast on local radio for listeners who remain in vehicles,” he said. “The ceremony will include a traditional feather ceremony as well as graduation. There will be no receiving line or meal provided afterwards.”

• MENNO: The Menno school will hold graduation May 16 with the ceremony at 2:30 p.m., preceded by baccalaureate at 2 p.m.

“It truly has been a year for our seniors that will be part of history. The Menno school board would like our seniors to have a traditional graduation in the gym with a limited amount of family in attendance,” said Superintendent Charlene Crosswait.

“I would say that our seniors would like to have the many memorable moments that seniors have during their senior year back. The coronavirus has really put a damper on the spring semester for our seniors.”

• NIOBRARA, Neb.: The original May 9 graduation activities have been replaced with a cruise night, according to Superintendent Margaret Sandoz.

“We have set July 18 as our official makeup date and hope to hold a ceremony on that day,” she said. “If we are unable to have a ceremony in person we will provide a virtual ceremony.”

• PARKER: Graduation will be held as planned May 16 at the football complex, according to Superintendent Donovan DeBoer.

“At the moment we are only allowing graduates to invite parents and siblings,” he said. “However, in light of the new Back To Normal plan, we are strongly considering opening it to the community with social distance and health provisions.”

• PARKSTON: The school district is looking at two graduation dates, according to its website. The first alternative is 2 p.m. June 6, while the second alternative is 2 p.m. June 27.

• PLATTE-GEDDES: The tentative plan is to keep the original date of May 23, but a final decision will be made May 7, according to Superintendent Joel Bailey.

The senior class was given four alternate dates, two in June and two in July, Bailey said. He anticipates graduation will be held on the football field with immediate families in attendance. The district will encourage social distancing and also will livestream the event for those who cannot attend.

In addition, the parents sponsored a cruise night and senior recognition, and the community participated in the “Light Up The Night” event, Bailey said.

“The seniors would like to push back graduation and attempt to have as traditional ceremony as possible. However, I’m just not sure that’s a realistic option,” he said. “My other fear is that we will put off graduation, see a large wave of COVID-19 in our community over the summer, and the seniors won’t get a graduation at all.”

• PONCA, Neb.: The school district is awaiting future guidelines and recommendations from the Nebraska Commissioner of Education, according to Superintendent Jody Phillips. “We should know the direction of our graduation plans by mid-May,” he said.

• RANDOLPH, Neb.: The district is planning a virtual scholarship presentation May 9, according to Superintendent Jeff Hoesing.

“We have our ‘traditional’ graduation planned for Sunday, July 26, hopefully in person,” he said. “If it can’t be held in that manner, we’ll go with a virtual graduation ceremony on that day.”

• SANTEE, Neb.: Graduates will be honored at a “drive-in” graduation starting at 5:30 p.m. May 7. Parking is limited, and attendees are asked to remain in their cars. The school will operate a large projection screen with a live video feed of the ceremony. An FM broadcaster will transmit to the vehicles.

• SCOTLAND: Graduation has been set for 1 p.m. July 19. Plans call for a regular ceremony open to the public, according to Principal Chris McGregor.

“If we are still social distancing in July, then we will have a modified graduation ceremony at our football field with only the graduates and their families allowed,” he said.

• TRIPP-DELMONT: The school is keeping its May 9 graduation date, according to Superintendent Andrea Powell.

“Our first preference, if the weather holds, is that it will be held at the football field, and it will be following six-foot distancing,” she said. “If the weather does not hold, we will move the graduation ceremonies into the gym where each graduate will have their own individual ceremony with their family.”

• VERDIGRE, Neb.: The school board is meeting May 13, potentially to set a date for a ceremony, according to Principal Chuck Kucera. The district should know more at that time.

• VERMILLION: The senior class will receive one, and possibly two, graduation ceremonies, according to Superintendent Damon Alvey.

“We surveyed seniors, and they spoke consistently on wanting an in person graduation if possible,” he said. “We want to honor them and their achievements, so we have a virtual graduation planned on their normal May 16 Graduation Day and an in person event planned for July 25, if that is allowed at that point, due to the number of spectators in a gathering.”

• VIBORG-HURLEY: The district will recognize its graduates May 16, according to Superintendent Brett Mellem.

Senior recognition videos will be published on the school website and Facebook page at 1 p.m. A senior vehicle caravan will travel through Viborg starting at 5 p.m. and Hurley at 6:15 p.m.

The district has set a tentative June 27 date for a 1 p.m. graduation ceremony in Viborg, indoors or outdoors.

“I feel the Viborg-Hurley seniors have done a fantastic job in finishing the school year strong and working closely with administration throughout the school closure,” Mellem said. “We’re appreciative of our senior class of 14 (members) and wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

• WAGNER: The ceremony will be held at 1:30 p.m. May 9 in the west parking lot on the school grounds, according to Principal Neil Goter.

The graduates and spectators must remain in their cars during the ceremony, Goter said. The program will consist of the welcome, address, class history, presentation of diplomas and closing.

“Graduates and parents can get out of their cars to receive their diploma, scholarships and (Native American) star quilt as well as to take pictures,” he said. “Three students will speak and we will then present diplomas.”

The school will provide one 5x7 picture to every graduate from a professional photographer.  When a graduate is walking back to the vehicle, time will lapse for social distances before the next graduate walks up.

The program will be livestreamed on the Wagner Community School Facebook page, and the Lake Andes radio station will also broadcast it, Goter said. “This is in hopes of limiting the amount of vehicles in the parking lot and still be able to listen in,” he said.

The seniors are doing “as well as could be expected” for losing the last quarter of their final year with classmates, Goter said.

“Every event has been postponed and or cancelled to date, and that was part of our thought process was to move forward with graduation in the parking lot,” he said. “Hopefully this will give them a closure to a very difficult year for them.”

• WAUSA, Neb. — Baccalaureate and a senior tea is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 10, according to the school website. Information on graduation was not immediately available.

• WYNOT, Neb.: An Aug. 1 graduation is planned with a traditional ceremony, if possible.

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