Caravan-like Bemidji High School commencement to take place May 29
After a winding parade through town, the Bemidji High School Class of 2021 will accept their diplomas through car windows this year to celebrate the culmination of their high school experience. The procession and drive-through graduation celebration will snake through town on Saturday, May 29.
BEMIDJI -- After a winding parade through town, the Bemidji High School class of 2021 will accept their diplomas through car windows this year to celebrate the culmination of their high school experience.
The procession and drive-thru graduation celebration will snake through town on Saturday, May 29.
Bemidji High School Principal Jason Stanoch said this decision was made with pandemic safety and students' wishes in mind.
“The students have had such a unique senior year and we wish to respect both the earning of their high school diplomas and also the state of our world at this time,” Stanoch said. “Due to existing restrictions and our desire to provide our graduates with a high-quality experience, we will again be having a car procession-style graduation.”
The graduation procession will begin at 9 a.m. from the Sanford Center parking lot, led by local police and fire departments, weaving throughout Bemidji. The caravan-like procession will come to an end at the Lumberjacks entrance at the high school.
Graduating seniors will be welcomed by BHS staff and then drive through the graduation line to receive their diploma.
Stanoch said he knows that some people might be disappointed by the decision to hold graduation this way, but due to current indoor gathering restrictions, staff feels this is the easiest way to do it all as one event and allow students’ families to still participate.
The school district announced on May 14 that despite the easing of the state mask mandate, a mask mandate will remain in place for public schools for the time being.
Going along with this, Stanoch said since live speeches and musical performances can’t feasibly occur, similarly to last year’s program, graduates, families and community members can tune into a live commencement ceremony program over the radio on station 104.5 FM.
“We could have had graduation, but we couldn't have had any live performances: choir, band, speeches, those different things. This way everybody will experience graduation at the same time -- during the driving, they'll hear the recorded program,” Stanoch said. “We partnered with the 'Voice of the Lumberjacks' to broadcast the ceremony including the traditional music, speakers and accolades. If we have it timed out correctly, when the first car hits the high school parking lot you will hear Kevin Jackson and Joel Hoover start telling us about our graduates.”
Every graduate was asked to write and submit a short biography about their time at Bemidji High School These will be read aloud over the airwaves to celebrate their accomplishments.
Going forward, Stanoch said he wonders how future graduations will look -- some students said they like the procession aspect so much they want to carry into future years, some prefer a traditional commencement ceremony, some want both.
“Predominantly, the students are in favor of a procession if they can't have a traditional graduation,” Stanoch said. “We have a good portion of students who also say they wish we would do the procession every year. Then we have some students who still want a traditional graduation, and I understand that completely. I think the dilemma will be is when we are free to do a traditional graduation again, what are some of the things that we carry over?”
Stanoch said one of his favorite traditions to come out of the pandemic has been yard signs for the graduates. He said he hopes this will continue on post-COVID.
“That I think is a tradition that will probably stick around. We may have some opportunities for new things to come out of the pandemic, not just negative. I think a lot of people will probably keep doing some of those things. I saw a lot of those (signs) out at the end of a lot of driveways for several months, some of them lasted well into the fall,” Stanoch said. “I think there's going to be some traditions that we continue, graduation may take on some different looks or have some added features.”
Stanoch said May 19 will be a “senior swag day” where students will be able to pick up their caps and gowns, as well as academic medallions and award stoles. Along with academic honors, students will receive a yard sign and some other surprise perks.
Stanoch said there are a few more surprises in store for graduates but that he doesn’t want to “let the cat out of the bag,” just yet.
Formal photographs will also be taken of the graduates as part of the commencement celebration.
Guidelines for the graduation procession are as follows: one car per graduate in the procession, and graduates should not be the driver of the vehicle. Seniors will be announced on the radio first by honors recognition and then in alphabetical order.
The Sanford Center parking lot opens at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 29. The radio program, broadcast on 104.5 FM, and the official drive-thru ceremony, will begin at 9 a.m.