As with nearly every high school across the country, high schools in the Lake Superior School District have been grappling with graduation in the age of COVID-19. State officials released guidelines on graduation ceremonies for Minnesota schools in early May that prohibit large gatherings indoors or in sports stadiums.

With these guidelines in mind, both Two Harbors High School and William Kelley High School prepared plans for virtual graduations that still give students the opportunity to cross the stage and feel celebrated by the larger community.

William Kelley embraces parade idea

William Kelley's 2020 virtual live commencement will begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 4. Members of the public can listen in or watch the graduation live via the William Kelley Class of 2020 YouTube page and WTIP FM radio from 5-5:30 p.m. There will be a link to access the YouTube feed directly on the district homepage isd381.org.

The ceremony will include prerecorded messages from Superintendent Bill Crandall, student speakers and a staff speaker.

Then starting at 5:30 p.m., students will have an opportunity to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. This portion of the ceremony is only for family members.

"As they walk across the stage, we'll record them and put together a video to make it a complete graduation," said Kelley principal Joe Nicklay. "We'll try to make it visually as similar to a regular graduation, though without the bands and choirs there."

Nicklay said the Bilben family, the school's band teacher and sons, volunteered to play "Pomp and Circumstance" live, but Nicklay said it was impractical.

"They'd end up playing the same minute of the piece over and over again," Nicklay said. "But it was very kind of them to offer. That's kind of what this whole process has been like — people stepping up to make this special for seniors."

Signs place along Outer Drive in Silver Bay celebrate the 2020 William Kelley High School graduates. (Photo submitted)
Signs place along Outer Drive in Silver Bay celebrate the 2020 William Kelley High School graduates. (Photo submitted)

Following the stage walks, the seniors will parade through the town in cars. A parent will drive the student through the parade route, where members of the public can cheer as the cars pass by. The parade will start in the high school parking lot and venture down Horn Boulevard through various streets before terminating in the shopping center parking lot. Students will also receive a takeaway meal donated by the Northwoods Family Grille.

"It’s been a unique situation for everyone," Nicklay said. "For some of us, our lives haven’t changed significantly, but for the seniors, it’s really impacted them."

Two Harbors gathers student input

Two Harbors principal Jay Belcastro wanted to make sure the students had a voice in the graduation planning process. The school year did start with a coalition of Two Harbors seniors visiting a school board meeting to request a graduation date change. The date, 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 4, has remained the same, but just about every other aspect of graduation has been adapted.

Belcastro put together a committee consisting of school administration staff, senior class officers and the high school nurse to create a plan for graduation. Surveys were distributed digitally to gather input to the class at large.

"I think we've built a celebration that they could be happy with," Belcastro said. "It was incredibly helpful to have their input, and I'm excited for what's to come."

Students have already started going to school in scheduled slots to be videotaped in their caps and gowns for the virtual graduation ceremony. The public is invited to view the virtual ceremony, which will go live on radio station KTWH and on YouTube at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a stage walk opportunity for seniors earlier in the day, but that event is only open to family members.

Two Harbors city employees place the new Two Harbors High School 2020 senior banners along First Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Pam Carlson)
Two Harbors city employees place the new Two Harbors High School 2020 senior banners along First Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Pam Carlson)

Banners celebrate seniors

Banners celebrating the 2020 graduates have already appeared in both Two Harbors and Silver Bay. Coalitions of senior parents spearheaded efforts to raise donations to create individual banners for each student.

In Two Harbors, the banners are placed on the light posts along Waterfront Drive and First Avenue.

In Silver Bay, signs have been planted in the ground along Outer Drive leading into the city. Both cities also have school buses featuring entire class photos.