When you’re in the graduation business, this is the busiest time of year.
Scott Thompson knows that best. He hasn’t parked his vehicle inside the garage of his Washougal residence for quite some time.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen for a while,” Thompson said. “Even in the aftermath, we’ll have boxes everywhere.”
Thompson is Camas High School’s girls basketball coach and also the owner of Royal-T/Herff Jones, a local business that supplies graduation apparel for area high school seniors.
The COVID-19 pandemic and government-mandated orders means he and his employees can’t work out of their Vancouver facility. So all those boxes have to go somewhere.
“We had to get really creative,” he said.
Thompson’s company works with close to 70 high schools annually across Washington and Oregon, including high schools in Vancouver and Evergreen school districts. During any other year, Thompson’s calendar is full of high school distributions spread over six weeks.
Not this year. That work is packed into less than three weeks. But in the sign of the times, schools have provided cap and gown distributions with a special spin.
Local seniors have collected caps, gowns, tassels and other memorabilia in a drive-thru pickup setting to follow social distancing protocols. Tuesday at Fort Vancouver, it felt like a festival, said Fort senior McKenna Ellen. It featured a live DJ, tailgating and socially distant games, in addition to cheers and hand-made signs from administrators, teachers, and parents.
“Everyone was dancing and going crazy,” she said.
Ellen earned the school’s Gary Boggs “Heart of a Champion” award, which honors athletes who participate in athletics every sports season throughout high school. She also is in ASB and handed out red-beaded necklaces Tuesday to fellow classmates as a way to spread Fort love to her fellow seniors.
Vancouver Public Schools announced it is tentatively planning to hold in-person graduation ceremonies in August. Most districts opted for virtual celebrations with some also planning to hold in-person ceremonies once bans on large gatherings are lifted. Still, Ellen is appreciative schools like Fort are creating lasting memories for seniors in a time when so many traditions already have been taken away.
That’s why Tuesday felt meaningful and memorable, Ellen said.
“I was in awe,” she added, “and everyone else was in awe of how many staff were there.”
Same goes for Thompson, who has watched schools go out of their way in recent weeks to make sure something as simple as a cap and gown pickup is done in grand style.
“It’s been really touching,” Thompson said. “After all (the seniors) have been through, to see these schools go all out for them and make sure they’re not forgotten.
“What other class will ever remember their cap and gown pickup like this class?”