Although there were overcast skies above Sauk Rapids-Rice High School on the evening of Tuesday, May 26, the spirits of the 314 graduating seniors from the Class of 2020 were anything but grey. The group gathered with family and friends in over 300 vehicles before a large screen and stage throughout the school parking lot where this year’s graduation ceremony took place.
The ceremony this year, like so many conducted across the United States, was a “drive-up” event that retained many of the features of a regular graduation ceremony: Superintendent Sinclair and Principal Nohner gave addresses, and valedictorian Gavin Fuchs addressed his class.
Some features of the ceremony were also unique this year in order to accommodate social distancing policies and the to uphold the necessary safety practices recommended by the state’s department of health in the face of the COVID-19 response.
While teachers Josh Bauer, Jan Lefebvre, Mary Levinski and Ray Nelson announced the graduate’s names in alphabetical order, students did not cross the stage in person to receive their diplomas. Instead, a slideshow presentation of their senior photos was projected onto the screen in time with their name announcement. So Bright Productions hosted a live stream of the ceremony so graduates and their families and friends could participate from their vehicles or from home. WJON FM radio provided the audio. In addition, Judy Leach and Sarah Herman provided interpretive services, and the City of Sauk Rapids, the Sauk Rapids Police Department and the Sauk Rapids Fire Department were on hand to offer safety and security services. Mickey and Shelly Chambers were able to shoot some aerial drone photos of the ceremony.
Earlier in the day, graduates had an opportunity to be photographed in their cap and gown by Dan Stephenson from Bulldog Photos. He generously donated time to give each student a commemorative photo marking the day. The high school’s Celebrate and Graduate Committee provided all our graduates with a card and gift card, along with extra grand prizes awarded to winners of a drawing.
At the conclusion of the event, a recessional car parade led by the Sauk Rapids Police Department moved from the high school onto a route from Golden Spike Road into downtown Sauk Rapids. Staff and the community lined the streets to wish the Class of 2020 well.
Many felt the alternative graduation ceremony was a huge success given the circumstances and positively exceeded everyone’s expectations. Katie Gruber, Sauk Rapids-Rice High School office manager was instrumental in planning the event. She said planning the ceremony began long ago, starting March 13, and really continued right up until the day of the event. She hears nothing but good things about the evening from graduates, their families and the community. “I am hearing praise, gratitude, heartfelt thank yous—even including some tears—for our ceremony this year. The community togetherness and STORM pride were really apparent to all of us.”
Kristi O’Brien, mother of graduate Alexandra O’Brien, agrees with Gruber’s observations and adds: “I can’t say enough good things about how this event went. It was very clear to all of us how much thought and effort the administration, class officers and staff put into the ceremony to make it special this year. For those who could not attend, the live stream allowed family and friends to still be a part of the event.”
Teacher Maria Burnham gave her perspective as a district staff member and congratulates both the graduates and the community for their involvement in the event’s success. “Last night was a beautiful celebration honoring our students. To see the smiling faces of our seniors with their families, celebrating all they have accomplished, was incredible. Our Sauk Rapids-Rice community came together in honor of these students, and to see that kind of unity and joy is a testament to this community. I hope that our students felt the warm embrace of everyone around them.”
Congratulations to all graduates from the Sauk Rapids-Rice High School Class of 2020!