Pequot Lakes High School is still planning a graduation ceremony for Friday, May 22. It just won’t be like any other ceremony that’s come before.
In the school board’s work session Monday, May 4, high school principal Aaron Nelson informed the board that - in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines - the school plans to have what was called a “mobile graduation.”
Nelson said he did not want to delay the ceremony too far - other schools have delayed their ceremonies into July and August - for fear of low attendance and a lack of interest.
“I’m in favor of keeping graduation where it is,” he said. “If we move it back, we lose our kids who are committed to the military, and we will lose students who have work commitments. When you think that these kids haven’t been together as a class since mid-March, some of the kids are going to lose interest. To me, (delaying the ceremony) is just not the right move at this time.”
A more traditional ceremony was considered on the school’s football field, but attendance would need to be limited and social distancing guidelines would be difficult to maintain and enforce.
As part of the “mobile graduation,” the seniors would be in cars in the school parking lot, with a stage outside the Patriot Athletic Center. The ceremony would be live streamed on the school webpage, which would be copied by two local radio stations.
Distributing diplomas would be somewhat traditional, with board members - likely one or two members instead of the usual four - handing diplomas to students who would briefly leave their vehicles one at a time. The graduates would then return to their vehicles.
Once the distribution of diplomas was complete, the graduates would then form a parade along a designated route through town, where family members and well-wishers could line up and celebrate while still maintaining social distancing. Some area businesses will make signs to celebrate the seniors.
“Discussions with the city are very informal at this point, but they have given simple approval to this idea,” Nelson said. “As far as the route itself, we hope to have people in cars as well as standing at safe distances along the city route.”
Nelson said he hopes a similar number of people can “attend” this ceremony as in previous years with traditional ceremonies, so long as distancing is maintained.
“Part of the idea of the parade was that people could line up along a big route and stay 6 to 10 feet away from each other safely, which they can’t do in a stadium, gym or any place like that,” Superintendent Chris Lindholm said. “Can we make them (maintain social distancing)? No. Can we provide them every opportunity to wave at the graduates and be safe? That is what we are trying to do.”
Should Gov. Tim Walz decide to extend his shelter-in-place order past the scheduled date of May 18, school officials would look into logistics of possibly delaying to restricting public access, but Nelson is not sure that would be necessary.
“We don’t know what happens on the 18th,” Nelson said. “If the governor makes the decision to extend the stay-at-home order, that would restrict who - as far as the public - will be able to attend the parade. We believe having students and families in a single car and reducing exposure would still fit those guidelines.”
In the event of rain, a tent would be set up outside the athletic center. The ceremony is planned to begin at 6:45 p.m.
Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.