BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – Gov. Reynolds is moving about as fast as she can to get life back to normal for Iowans, but seniors at Central Lee High School were relegated to a mock graduation Thursday and Friday.
With officials hoping to get a real graduation ceremony in on June 28, with weather… and governor….permitting, the district moved to have a company come in and put together a simulated graduation.
Seniors, one at a time with full-on social distancing in place, walked down the center of the high school gymnasium to a set of camera’s run by 2008 Central Lee alum Kelsey Hammer-Parks.
The students would then stop, High School Principal Nicole Herdrich would read their name, and then the students would walk up the steps across the stage to a diploma cover presented by Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier.
The simulation will even include senior addresses, valedictorian speeches and presentations from school officials.
Alleanah Oilar, a graduating senior said she’s glad the district is being proactive with the students, but will miss not being a part of the class for the last 10 weeks.
“I think it’s a lot better than just having it online or something, compared to how it could’ve been. It’s a lot easier as well even with all the distancing guidelines being met,” Oilar said.
“It was kind of weird not being able to say good bye and everything face to face, but I’m sure we’re all going to get through this pretty well, and I hope to see them all later on down the line in our lives.”
Her father Daniel said he was happy the school district took the issue serious enough to segregate the kids at this point.
“I think it did diminish the whole graduation process,” he said. “But what else do you do?”
Alleanah’s mother Barbara said there are regrets about her daughter’s final year of high school.
“This is a lot better than nothing. I feel bad that she didn’t get to go through everything we did with our graduation,” Barbara said “It’s those final goodbyes that help you stop one section of your life and carry on to the others.”
Crozier said he thinks the odds are very likely that there will be an outdoor graduation, but he said he questions the limits on how many people can gather. The district has set Sunday, June 28 at 2 p.m. as a tentative date.
“We’re committed to finding a way to make it work.,” Crozier said. “Our parents have been outstanding. A lot of thank yous, but they know our hands are tied. I don’t think anyone’s mad, their just disappointed about the situation.”
He said the senior parade on the 17th will be a neat event that he thinks may become an annual event. But he said some students may not realize what they are getting with the simulated graduation.
“Some day when they’re 45 years old and have kids going through graduation themselves they can say ‘Hey, let’s pull up our graduation video’ on YouTube or whatever it is at the time and be able to see that.”
He said the district won’t continue the simulation recordings in upcoming years unless they find themselves in a similar situation.
Jerry Gallagher, of The Donovan Group out of Milwaukee, was helping facilitate the recordings and said his group focuses on communications for K-12 public schools.
He said the group helped the Central Lee district with the bond referendum, but has come back to lend a hand helping the simulation.
“We focus on strategic communication and helping them plan long-term and also day to day social media, because there’s a lot of districts that don’t have that in house. They don’t have the budget for it,” he said.
“But in the last six weeks, but almost everything we’ve done has been shelved to help provide support during COVID and what digital learning looks like,” he said.
Gallagher said he connected with Hammer-Parks several years back and works with her on larger video productions like the simulated graduation.