“Wow!! What a day!! Pequot Lakes High School pulled off an awesome graduation for the class of 2020, thank you!”

“Wow - Pequot did it up right! Awesome graduation.”

“Nothing but A+ grades for this graduation. Way to go Pequot Lakes High School.”

Those are just a few comments on Facebook about the Friday, May 22, parade and mobile graduation ceremony for 126 Pequot Lakes High School seniors. This was a first outdoor graduation ceremony in Pequot Lakes as traditionally the event takes place inside the school's athletic complex.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions of how many people can gather together, the mood was festive as Pequot Lakes School District officials turned to a mobile graduation ceremony that at least one person called an “amazing, unique and memorable graduation ceremony” on Facebook.

The event started with a parade through downtown Pequot Lakes, featuring seniors with their families in all makes of cars, pickup trucks, a Hummer and a tractor-trailer truck. Most vehicles were decorated, and many seniors popped through their vehicle’s sunroofs or sat in the beds of pickups in blue caps and gowns.

People lined the streets and businesses decorated their storefronts for a festive feel as shouts of “congratulations” were hurled at seniors as they drove by, air horns sounded and drivers honked horns.

The vehicles then lined the high school parking lot as seniors exited their vehicles one by one to have their name announced, collect their diploma and have a photo taken with Principal Aaron Nelson in front of a large “Pequot Lakes High School” banner.

School board and school leaders sat in chairs spread apart on the sidewalk.

Nelson was the only speaker. In his commencement address, he said:

“Our seniors have endured the most remarkable year in the history of Pequot Lakes High School, denied the last few months of their senior year to share the close bonds of friendship and the cherished moments that precede the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

“For many, this has been a great struggle. Many tears have been shed in lament of opportunities lost and grief for what might have been. My heart breaks for these seniors. …

“But enough of the sorrow for events beyond our control. Let’s focus on what you have gained. You have gained self-awareness of what you are capable of when beset by unprecedented barriers. You have explored the world of distance learning and mastered the art of managing your time to achieve success.

“You have had the chance to explore the farthest reaches of Netflix, Snapchat and your house - maybe even finding the missing pair to your socks you thought was gone forever. You have achieved eternal notoriety as the champions of Senior Skip Day. You have defined the meaning of perseverance and cherished moments with your family prior to beginning the next stage of your life.

“Seniors, it is with great pride that the staff, administration and school board of Pequot Lakes Schools celebrate this unique event to honor your title as graduate of Pequot Lakes High School.”

After all seniors received their diplomas, Nelson announced the class of 2020 and vehicle horns honked to mark the occasion in lieu of the traditional cap toss. Graduates and their families then left the school grounds, as the 30th year of Grad Blast had to be canceled.

Reflecting Monday on the graduation ceremony, Nelson said it was better than he ever imagined.

“I knew we had a good plan and I had rehearsed it and walked through it a dozen times in my head and every detail was covered,” he said.

However, he wasn’t sure about how the ceremony would feel compared to a traditional event.

“I would describe it as very festive,” Nelson said. “That is in large part due to the families and the kids and the community who showed up and supported it. It was better than I ever imagined.”

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.