High schools in Lewis County are eyeing the great outdoors — specifically football stadiums and fields — for more traditional graduation ceremonies this year following relaxed COVID-19 social distancing guidelines from the state.
Schools across the state were forced to get creative with their ceremonies last spring, with many locally opting to host virtual ceremonies combined with parades or drive-through events.
Though the plans for some schools will likely change, health guidelines such as mask mandates and social distancing will still be enforced, along with any other updated state guidance.
At a Chehalis School Board meeting earlier this week, W.F. West Principal Bob Walters told the board they’re currently planning an in-person graduation ceremony outside — a first for the school — with limited guests. They’re still working out the details, he noted.
“As long as we don’t move back in phases, we’re planning one graduation. So, the exciting thing to work towards with that is that this’ll be the first time the senior class will get to be together — and it might be the only time. So we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen,” he said.
According to Walters, high school staff are currently planning to spread seniors out 6 feet apart on the football field with guests sitting in the stadium. They’re planning on allowing only up to two guests per student in the stands, though that may be subject to change.
Graduation is currently scheduled for Saturday, June 5, according to a copy of the school’s calendar last updated in December.
Last year, W.F. West hosted a graduation parade, with vinyl displays of the seniors in Stan Hedwall Park, followed by a virtual graduation ceremony.
Centralia High School Principal Josue Lowe said he and his staff are deep into graduation planning, and they’ve been busy making sure they offer as many safe, in-person culminating events to the seniors as they possibly can.
They’re currently leaning toward an in-person ceremony for Centralia, he said.
“I think that all of us here that are involved with school, especially as we approach the end of the school year, want to try and do as many of those traditional events as we can,” he said. “We’re going to do it, we’re going to figure out how to do it with the guidelines in place — that’s always kind of been our guiding principle: Not if, but how.”
Centralia High School is tentatively planning their ceremony for Friday, June 11, outdoors at Tiger Stadium. Capacity is currently restricted to 50 percent of its regular listing, and Lowe noted that it could be cut to 25 percent if Lewis County falls back into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan.
The high school’s first culminating event, the Top-10 Academic Banquet, has been planned for Monday, May 10, though that event will not be public and a video presentation will be posted online by the school.
“We want to make it as much a normal May and June as possible, especially for our seniors,” he said.
Smaller high schools in Lewis County also seem to be heading in the direction of hosting in-person ceremonies.
Toledo High School Principal Martin Huffman told The Chronicle their preliminary plan is to host an event outside on the football field. It will be a larger return to normal for the high school, which last year hand-delivered diplomas to each of its 50 graduating seniors.
“We’d contemplated (going in-person) last year, but just got kiboshed on all the rules and stuff. So we did a milk-man version, delivered diplomas to the house and had a small, individual ceremony at each house,” Huffman said. “The whole thing is going to revolve around the social distancing rules.”
In a normal year, Toledo would host their graduation ceremony in its gymnasium. This is the first time, according to Huffman’s recollection, that the school will host a ceremony outside. Though they haven’t gotten quite past casual discussion, Huffman said this year’s ceremony should be an improvement.
“The one we did last year was different, it was pretty labor intensive though,” he said.
Pe Ell School District Principal Brandon Pontius said they’re also planning on hosting a graduation outside, though it will be contingent on the weather.
He and his staff are also early in discussing event details. Pontius said they’re hoping to give seniors a set number of tickets, though they weren’t quite sure this far along how many people they’d allow into the ceremony.
Pe Ell’s class of 2020 didn’t get a graduation ceremony last summer after a group of parents took over planning and opted to push back the ceremony date to Aug. 14, hoping to hold an in-person event.
As the pandemic worsened, and as students left for post-high school opportunities, Pontius said they weren’t able to host a ceremony.