Virtual/drive-in commencement ceremonies planned for area high schools
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt plans across the world, one major disruption for students has been related to high school graduation ceremonies. But even amid the pandemic and social distancing guidelines, all of the area schools with graduating seniors are sure of one thing: The show will go on.
North Lakes Academy and Forest Lake Area High School will both hold some form of a drive-in and virtual commencement ceremony, and while plans are still uncertain for Lakes International Language Academy, school leaders have committed to holding some form of an in-person commencement.
Forest Lake Area High School will hold a virtual and drive-up commencement ceremony this year. A prerecorded commencement ceremony will be broadcast on LATV and livestreamed online June 5. Following the ceremony, students and their families will be able to park at the school’s parking lot and then drive around the bus lane to the main entrance of the high school along Highway 97 to pick up their diplomas.
“In all of the ideas that have been floating by us, we researched all of them to see which one we can pull off safely, and we feel like we have a ceremony that everyone could get a little bit of everything they want, but with twists and turns that will be unique,” Forest Lake Area High School Principal Jim Caldwell said.
Contingency plans have also been made in the event of inclement weather. The stage to accept diplomas, which will be outside of the Highway 97 main entrance of the high school, will have a covering in the case of rain, but if there is more serious inclement weather, only the student will be allowed into the high school to accept their diploma.
The school has partnered with the Forest Lake Police and Fire departments to engineer a traffic pattern around the school. However, that comes with a considerable time difference. Not including the prerecorded commencement address, the ceremony in total is expected to take 2 1/2 hours if all goes smoothly. Typically, the commencement ceremony is under two hours.
“Just like we had to turn our entire education system on a dime and create a distance learning concept, we had to do the same thing with graduation. We’re keeping what is really good and people look forward to and creating a new graduation experience everyone can be proud of,” Caldwell said.
There is one piece of the traditional graduation ceremonies Caldwell still hasn’t figured out yet: the tossing of the caps, something he said may not happen during the June 6 ceremony. One possibility will be to honor the class of 2020 at some point next year during a sporting activity, and then give them the opportunity to toss their caps.
NLA confirmed plans last week for its originally scheduled June 2 date that will allow its graduating seniors and their families to park at the newly built NLA K-8 campus and watch a ceremony from their vehicles. Whether or not the ceremony will be prerecorded or will be live with social distancing and cleaning practices is yet to be determined. How the seniors will accept their diplomas is also still being discussed.
NLA Executive Director Cam Stottler said that the graduation plans are bittersweet for the seniors.
“I think they’re really excited we’re able to do something, [but] I think they’re disappointed that it can’t be ‘normal,’” he said. “I think they appreciate the fact we’re a small school and we can send them off in a true North Lakes manner, and they get to be highlighted and recognized and they know we’re behind them.”
LILA Executive Director Shannon Peterson said that regardless of how graduation looks this year, it will still be on June 4 as scheduled. Peterson said that the current plans are for a parking lot drive-in ceremony, and details are currently being worked out.
“We felt it’s important to mark it’s a rite of passage. They’re not graduating in August or whenever we could get together,” Peterson said. “It’s marking the end of 13 years of education, so it’s important to mark it as it happens. And it’ll be memorable.”
*Editor's note: A previous version of this story reported that Forest Lake Area High School's commencement ceremonies were June 6. The date is June 5, not June 6. The story should now reflect the correct date.