With physical distancing and social togetherness the name of the game amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the class of 2020 from Grand County High School will join their peers around the state, country and world to celebrate their graduation in a manner that will be altogether unprecedented and unique but will — to the degree that it is safe — bring them together to celebrate on May 28.
According to Principal Steve Hren, many soon-to-be graduates hoped to celebrate in a manner as close to traditional as possible. This is, after all, their marquee opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of years of schooling and the challenges and opportunities that coming years will bring for the young adults.
Schedule of events
- May 26
- Pick up caps and gowns.
- Clean lockers and return Chromebooks
- May 28
- 5-6 p.m. Meet at Swanny Park for parade lineup.
- 6 p.m. parade start.
- 6-8 p.m. Live broadcast of graduation ceremony, Emery Telcom & KCYN radio.
The Southeast Utah Health Department advised the Grand County School District, however, that it would have to forego many elements of traditional ceremonies this year — advice that health officials around the state and country have had to give in their own communities.
Large, close-quartered crowds are one of the key public health risks that local officials have worked to mitigate over the past two months. Given current levels of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing in the United States and in Moab, this year’s graduates will not have an opportunity to safely gather together, either.
In lieu of a traditional ceremony, school administrators and graduating students have come together to create a graduation plan that was finalized on May 6 and later approved by the health department. The ceremony will cap off their final year of high school with a ceremony that will be some part novel, some part traditional, and all parts memorable.
The ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. with a parade of the graduates starting at Swanny Park that will go to 300 South and end at the high school. No particular order is required during lineup.
Students will travel by car from the park with their immediate family. Locals not participating in the parade will have the opportunity to watch from along the route.
Planners said Swanny Park was chosen as the starting point, as it has been the typical lineup location for parades in Moab for the last couple of decades. Desert Rivers Credit Union had been considered, but highwayconstruction and safety concerns nixed it as an option.
Upon arrival at the high school, graduates will participate in the diploma presentation, which will be broadcast live by Emery Telcom and radio station KCYN. One at a time, Hren will call the name of each graduate as they exit their vehicle, walk through the high school’s big ceremonial G, and receive their diploma from a school district board member.
Once each graduate receives their diploma, each vehicle will line up on the right side of Red Devil Drive, which goes through the school parking lot and back out to 400 East. They will then receive a signal to exit their vehicles, walk to the opposite side of the drive and throw their graduation caps in the air.
Graduates will then, while maintaining their distance apart from one another, retrieve their caps, get back into their cars and exit, ending the ceremony.
The before and after
Two days before graduation, on May 26, seniors will retrieve from the high school their caps, gowns, yearbooks and any personal items left in their lockers. They will also drop off Chromebooks lent to them by the school for distance education.
Also prior to the graduation ceremony, the valedictorian, salutatorian and student body president will record their welcomes and speeches in the school auditorium, which the school district will later stream online and on TV. Seniors can also retrieve a copy of or download the final video, as well.
The video will also include footage of Hren giving out college scholarships and naming the recipients. Scholarship presenters may be part of the video.
All of the video footage from graduation, along with a video that seniors created earlier in the year, will be edited together to create one graduation video that will later be streamed online and made available to each graduate.
Where family members fit into the plan
In a message to parents about what the graduation ceremony will entail, high school administrators said that the class of 2020 and their families “have had to deal with much uncertainty related to graduation,” but that students and administrators “have a plan in place that will be as memorable as the last couple months have been.”
The high school asked that parents “support your child by helping them remain focused on their schoolwork” as graduation approaches and reminded them that “seniors must meet graduation requirements in order to participate” in the ceremony.
During the parade, graduates may have one vehicle in the parade with immediate family members riding along. Friends and other community members will not be allowed to ride along or join the parade. Each car should display the name of the graduate in the window, visible from a distance.
The administration said that family members may exit their cars as their graduates walk through the G and receive their diploma, but they must re-enter their vehicle so that the next graduate can do the same.
The high school has encouraged families to decorate their vehicles as they would for any parade and graduates to decorate their caps as they would for a typical graduation.
Where Moab fits into the plan
High school administrators sent a similar message to Moabites as the one they sent to parents: Uncertainty has plagued the community regarding graduation as it has in many other respects amid the pandemic, but students and staff have created a plan approved by the health department.
The administration asks community members to “support our seniors and their families” by adhering to the agreed-upon graduation plan and to support seniors in their lives to ensure they meet graduation requirements.
Community members are not allowed to participate in the parade by driving a vehicle but may instead stand along the route to cheer on the graduates, similar to how the homecoming parades have been conducted. The health department has asked that community members maintain their distance from one another along the parade route.
Anybody not graduating or not an immediate family member of a graduate will not be allowed on the high school campus during graduation. Instead, they can tune into KCYN, Emery Telcom’s local cable channel, or the various online streaming platforms that will carry the graduation ceremony.
This year’s graduating high schoolers are no stranger to collective trauma. Many were born into the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks that killed 2,996 people and kicked off an ongoing war from which many others have since died. Now, as the graduates reach their final days of public schooling, COVID-19 is killing more people each day than the 9/11 terror attacks did in one.
Amid the mourning and grief from these and other global events that have rocked the world around the class of 2020. There have also been many moments of celebration and joy. Athletes have celebrated individual successes; teams have taken home wins; scholars have earned college acceptances and high marks. Each of them have had influential teachers, discovered interests, and found community.
Although the pandemic may take away an opportunity for the graduates to celebrate in a traditional manner, the accomplishments up for celebration have not been lost. Hren and the leadership of the Grand County School District hope for this year’s graduation to be a time of festivity, no matter the circumstances, and the commemorative ceremonies are sure to be memorable.
“At this point in my life, all I can remember of my high school graduation is walking in, sitting down then walking up to the stage and getting the diploma,” Hren said. “Other than that, I couldn’t tell you who the speaker was let alone what they talked about.
“I forgot the graduation speaker I had; they’re not going to forget what they did for this graduation. It’s going to be very unique.”