Bill Sniffin: Masks, Social Distancing Define The Class Of 2020 Graduations

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, just about every normal graduation in America has been canceled. And in their places are some unique ways to celebrate.

Bill Sniffin

May 11, 20204 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

High school graduations are unique traditions and rites of passage in our America. 

This year, these events will be different than at any other time in our existence.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, just about every “normal” graduation in America has been canceled.  And in their places are some unique ways to celebrate. 

Social distancing will be encouraged.  Masks will be worn.  We have become a society of nervous, jittery bystanders.  Hopefully this will be a once in a lifetime event.  I am looking forward to 2021 when normalcy returns. But enough complaining, this column is about graduations here in 2020. 

Some places are doing drive-by graduations.  One school will reportedly allow a family to drive up to a stage. The student and the family will get out and walk across the stage and then get back into their cars. Sorry I cannot remember which one. 

In my hometown of Lander, a group of parents led by Tara Berg and Patty Massey put posters of all the seniors up on poles on Main Street.  On Friday, May 15, a parade of all the seniors will be held honoring these wonderful kids. 

Margie Hornecker says her grandson Elijah is graduating from Rock River. “The student will approach the platform with no more than 10 family members who can join them for photos. Then everyone returns to their vehicles to watch the next graduate. This will be held on the football field. Not ideal but making the best of everything,” she says.

John Davis says: “Since the traditional graduation ceremony was canceled, a Worland High School graduation parade has been set for 2 p. m. on Sunday, May 17 down Main Street (Big Horn Avenue) in Worland.  That’s the time when the commencement was otherwise to begin.  

“Speeches from the valedictorians, salutatorian and keynote speaker are to be broadcast on 96.1 FM.  People will be asked to maintain social distancing while watching the parade. Diploma covers are being presented to graduates, with videotapes and photos being taken; each student will receive a copy of the video,” he said.   

Chad Banks said in Rock Springs: “This is one thing our community is doing. Each senior is on a sign lining the major road through RS. We’re doing a cruise with seniors. The signs will be up until Graduation,” he said.

Some colleges are doing their graduations on TV or on computers with the application called Zoom, which has taken over the whole system of having meetings.

My own high school graduation was a modest affair with some family coming by in our little town of Wadena, Iowa. It is a town about the size of Hudson with 316 living there. It was such a small town I always said both resume speed signs were on the same post – just attached to opposite sides. 

Our four children graduated high school here in Lander. We also had a traditional gathering for family and friends afterward.  Relatives would travel hundreds of miles to get to our events.  The last one of these was in 1999 for our son Michael. 

We would then travel hundreds of miles to attend graduations for our grandchildren as far as Dallas, TX and Montrose, CO.  Again, wonderful parties would occur after some tedious graduation ceremonies.  

One time in Montrose we sat out in the sun at a football grandstand for two hours as a parade of speakers droned on.  A month later we were in Texas when there were 3,000 graduates.  Good grief, how are they going to get this done? The event was held in a giant basketball arena and there were over 10,000 people present.  Amazingly, those folks got it done in one hour.  Best one of those I ever attended!

This year, we have two grandchildren graduating from high school; Hayden Johnson here in Lander and Alexys Gibbons in Warden, WA. 

Doubt we can make it to Washington state in June because of travel restrictions but hate to miss it. Still unsure of how the Lander event will be handled but people are planning many events for a June 14 official production. 

I feel for these young people because they did not have a prom, a skip day, and most importantly the chance to spend their waning years of high school with their best friends. 

We all will remember 2020 because of this pandemic but it will be an especially bittersweet memory to those young people missing out on these events. Let’s hope 2021 will bring back more normal times. 

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.