It was a graduation like no other in a year like no other. About 300 members of the Kent-Meridian High School Class of 2020 took one last walk across campus on Tuesday, scheduled between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. to keep social distancing.
Each student posed in their cap and gown for a photo with the lion statue, received their diploma cover and posed again on a temporary small stage in front of the school for their official graduation photo. Up to four family members could watch from a safe social distance before they and the graduate jumped in their car and headed away to make room for the next student.
In a normal year, the ceremony would have been in June at the accesso ShoWare Center where thousands would be in the arena, seated above the hundreds of students seated on the floor. Students would parade across the stage as many eyes watched.
But the COVID-19 pandemic made this far from a normal year. Staff, students and parents came up with a social distancing plan for the 2020 ceremony.
“It’s a little unexpected,” graduate Shyann Dietz said after taking the walk. “It’s kind of sad, but they make do with what they can do. I do appreciate what they’ve done. It means a lot, honestly, to be able to experience this.”
Dietz fought back tears as she prepared to cross the stage.
“It’s emotional, of course,” said Dietz, who plans to work this fall to save money to get into the Pima Medical Institute.
Kent-Meridian and iGrad kicked off the graduation walks at the individual schools. The other graduations include Kentwood on July 8, Kent Mountain View Academy and Kent Phoenix Academy on July 9, Kentlake on July 10, Kentridge on July 11 and The Outreach Program on July 14.
Superintendent Calvin Watts stood in the front parking lot at Kent-Meridian to watch the ceremony on the nearby stage.
“I could not be more proud to be a part of this event that took hours of planning,” Watts said. “I’m happy for our families and our students. They are celebrating a huge milestone for their students and for us as a school district.”
Watts missed the usual graduation procedures.
“If you think about our normal graduation, my only regret is I did not get the chance to shake the hands of every student as they walk down and receive their diploma,” Watts said. “While that’s something I miss, it pales in comparison to the fact they are able to celebrate this accomplishment today.”
Things certainly were different than past years.
“Normally, we have ShoWare Center and families can come and celebrate,” Watts said as he watched families get in their vehicles and drive away after snapping a quick photo or two from the roped off viewing area by the stage. “But under the circumstances, understanding that for students, family and staff, health and safety and wellness are our number one priority, this is the best option we had available. This was something that our students, staff and families shared this is what they wanted to wait for. Patience pays off and this is an example of it.”
Without the large gathering, there weren’t the typical screams, hollers and every graduate throwing their caps in the air. It was more quiet and reflective.
“It’s pretty interesting, pretty unusual,” said graduate Peter Herbert, who plans to attend the University of New Mexico in the fall. “They are doing the best with what’s available.”