Duluth Public Schools seniors will walk across their schools' auditorium stages individually this week and next. The auditoriums will be empty, except for a few staff members. The district decided this as an alternative to a traditional in-person ceremony, which has been banned by the governor.

For some East High School students, this isn’t enough.

East senior Meredith Hill last week started a petition on Change.org to have an in-person graduation ceremony on the football field with social distancing guidelines in place. Hill said she started the petition to help out her friend and classmate Hailey Coda.

Both Hill and Coda said they didn't know in-person graduations, even outside, were banned before starting the petition, which had 108 signatures as of Tuesday. So Coda and other East seniors are asking the district to at least allow a “car parade” celebration along London Road.

“I’m really grateful for all that has been done so far with what they are planning,” Coda said. “I just don’t really think they understand how hard it is for us not to see each other one last time to say goodbye and get that closure.”

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Jori Davis and her son DeKarri have been working to convince Duluth Public Schools to hold a car parade for graduating Denfeld and East seniors. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Jori Davis and her son DeKarri have been working to convince Duluth Public Schools to hold a car parade for graduating Denfeld and East seniors. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Jori Davis, whose son, DeKarri Davis, is a senior at East, is helping with the parade, which would allow each student and/or their family to be in their own vehicle. She acknowledged that some families don't have access to a vehicle and suggested that buses could be utilized to serve students who do not have access to a vehicle.

“I understand that it might not be ideal for every single student, and I’m not trying to be rude, but I think the majority of the students could do this and they would be able to at least have something,” Davis said regarding a possible car parade.

However, Minnesota Department of Education guidance does not consider alternatives such as using buses to constitute safe social distancing.

East senior Nicole Becks said she is also grateful for the work teachers and staff have put into the virtual graduation, but she believes the current arrangement is more for the parents.

“Nobody looks forward to their graduation day being on a computer screen and not being with all of your friends,” she said.

Becks isn’t the only student who believes the virtual graduation is just for the parents.

“I like the idea of the parade because it would be more about the students than the parents,” East senior Derek Daniels said.

East senior Corbyn Goodermote said she and her friends just want to be a part of at least one in-person event, even if that means they are in separate cars.

“We just want to show the community how proud we are of what we’ve done so far,” she said.

This week and next, Denfeld and East seniors have signed up for five-minute slots to walk across their schools' stages with their immediate family present to get a picture. Denfeld has 225 seniors graduating and East has 343.

WDSE-WRPT will record the students walking across the stage to create a graduation video that will be aired in the future. Denfeld students will also be taken on the traditional clock tower tour.

Denfeld senior Jack McCormick, who serves on the school’s Exec Board, said when Denfeld seniors heard about the virtual graduation, many were upset, but they have accepted and appreciate the current alternative.

“At Denfeld walking across the stage and visiting the clock tower are key parts of graduation, and I think I speak on behalf of many Denfeld seniors when I say we appreciate the effort the district and Denfeld staff have made to give us a memorable graduation,” he said.

Denfeld senior Katelyn Mayne, who also serves on Exec Board, said many parents were especially upset by the decision.

“I’m relieved that we’re even having any type of ceremony because I know some other seniors that don’t even get to go back to their high school again.”

Duluth School Board Chair Jill Lofald said the district is following state guidance and doesn’t believe a car parade would be the best option at this time, especially due to the large size of the two senior classes.

“I am hoping that once the class of 2020 sees the significant work and care and love that went into crafting their celebration that our students will know that they were thought of and there was a lot of planning care," Lofald said.

This story originally mispresented a quote by Jori Davis. It was updated at 10:44 p.m. May 12. The News Tribune regrets the error.