The Hermiston School District hopes to give graduating seniors a night to remember in what has, in many ways, been a year to forget.
With the coronavirus pandemic canceling the rest of the school year back in March, wiping out in-class lessons, spring sports, dances and more, district officials put their heads together to find a way to honor the Class of 2020.
On Friday evening at 7:30 p.m., Hermiston seniors will don their graduation robes and parade down Highland Avenue, down Seventh Street past West Park Elementary School, turning onto Orchard Avenue before winding back at the high school. The public is invited to watch from a safe distance.
“Hopefully, it will be a party atmosphere,” said Hermiston School District Athletic Director Larry Usher.
Then, on June 4, the actual graduation ceremony will take place – albeit very differently and much longer than past years.
To keep everyone safe, 24 people at a time – eight graduating seniors and two guests each – will be allowed in while the students accept a gift basket with their diploma, a T-shirt and a gift card.
“A lot of these kids need the money,” Usher said. “There aren’t a lot of jobs out there for kids and the ones that are have already been filled.”
A far cry from every past graduation ceremony, Usher acknowledged.
“It is kind of sad to think that’s where we are,” he said. “But we’re trying to do the best we can in a bad situation.”
What happens next year remains very much up in the air, said Usher.
Sports may or may not happen. Usher said one idea that some schools are considering is to flip the sports seasons around and have non-contact sports in the fall and winter and other sports like football, basketball and wrestling in the spring.
“The value of sports and other activities is so unbelievable,” said Usher. “It’s important for their emotional health, as well.”
At Monday’s Hermiston City Council meeting, Usher also addressed other efforts the school district has made during the pandemic.
In March, the district began delivering free breakfast and lunch to all its students and will continue to do that throughout the summer. Usher himself has been on one of the delivery buses twice a day for six weeks. Since March, the district has served between 5,000 and 6,000 meals.
Councilor Roy Barron thanked the district for all it has done.
“A lot of credit goes to the school district for putting on an event that is safe as well as reflective of what the kids have accomplished.”