The sounds of cheers from families and friends filled McKenzie Stadium once again as the graduating seniors of Evergreen High School walked across the stage Saturday to claim their diplomas.
This year’s graduation was as close to back to “normal” as it could get under current CDC and Washington Department of Health guidelines. The graduates were socially distanced on the football field, with guests seated on each side. There were separate entrances and seating sections for people who were vaccinated or unvaccinated. The band was recorded, and “Pomp and Circumstance” played from the speakers as the graduates walked down the aisles of the stadium and onto the turf.
Still, graduation was the cherry on top of the year that lacked some of the things that make high school special for Xandriah Guidos. She was most excited about being able to have a farewell performance in the performing arts and band programs that she loves.
“In the past few weeks, I’ve been able to have concerts and perform for other people, and that’s been so exciting for me,” she said. “I’m taking this (graduation) as kind of like another performance.”
She knew her graduation was important to her dad. Guidos will be a first-generation college student in the fall.
“He didn’t have high school graduation where he’s from, because he’s from a different country,” she said. “This is just really big for him, and I’m so excited my parents get to see me walk across the stage.”
Evergreen Principal Danny Orrantia noted that for some of the students, who have finished the school year in cohorts, Thursday’s graduation rehearsal may have marked the first time they’ve seen some of their friends in a year.
Porter Lorange tried not to get his hopes up for an in-person ceremony. After missing out on traditional prom and other high school activities, Lorange said that for a while, there was no way to know whether their graduation would be like the class of 2020’s virtual and drive-through celebrations or if they’d get to toss their caps in McKenzie Stadium.
“Everything that happened with last year’s graduating class, I just feel super lucky that I can be here in person and see some of my friends,” he said. “Especially after this past year — I did all online schooling, so I haven’t really seen any of my friends in about a year, and just having this last time to be with everybody and kind of like commemorate this, it’s awesome.”
After making the tough call of reducing the class of 2020’s graduation to the limited gatherings, Shane Gardner, Evergreen Public Schools’s director of safety and security, felt it was even more important to get back to celebrating these seniors’ achievements in full force. Gardner’s son was a graduate last year, so he knew that the reduced fanfare was not all that the students deserved.
Orrantia was proud to be able to dial the celebration back up for this class, which he described as “unique.”
“It’s a gigantic sigh of relief,” he said. “It’s refreshing, and it almost makes me feel like we’re back to normal.”
He noted the particular milestone the ceremony represented for students, some of whom took on untraditional roles during the pandemic. Some students became caregivers or even wage earners for their families, he said. For that, Orrantia described these seniors as “persistent” and “graceful.”
“School for them has expanded beyond their classroom and to the real world way before they expected to do that,” he said.
Pulling off Saturday’s ceremony was a constant battle of plans and back-up plans. After completing a strategy that would allow for all of the graduating seniors inside the stadium and two guests each, state guidelines were updated again to allow for a vaccinated seating section. This allowed the district to double the seating, and therefore the number of tickets, for the left side of the stage.
One of the things Gardner felt they learned after last year’s ceremony is that families did not want them to postpone the festivities in the hopes of being able to increase capacity. Delaying the drive-through celebration last year to August meant some graduates weren’t able to attend after they’d already gone into the military, began working or moved away to college.
Another thing they learned from the class of 2020: The seniors wanted to see their friends.
“This is a 13-year milestone for these kids,” Gardner said. “Some came by it relatively easy and others struggled, and this is a huge achievement for them. And many of them aren’t going to see those people that they spent 13 years with for a long time again.”
All things considered, Gardner called Saturday’s ceremony the best-case scenario.