PENDLETON — It was a warm sunny day as students from the Pendleton Heights Class of 2020 streamed from the school and walked to the entrances at the football stadium.
In cap and gown, they waited there for a few minutes — just a few minutes longer after a six-week delay — for the start of their in-person high school commencement ceremony that almost never was.
“I think it went great. It was a beautiful day,” Principal Connie Rickert said in a post-event assessment. “The storm somehow missed us, and so I think everybody was really pleased. We’ve gotten a lot of great reviews from it, so far. A lot of thank-yous.”
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Of the 311 members of the class, about 136 members came out for the Sunday afternoon event, which was a re-do of a May 31 ceremony moved online only because of COVID-19.
It was new for the school to have its ceremony outside. Also new: Administrators wore masks (green with a large white “PH” on the front), and seniors were seated a socially-distanced six feet apart.
What wasn’t new was the pomp and circumstance. Students — and parents — who wanted certain memories of the ceremony, such as the walk across the stage and the turning of the tassel, got those.
Class President Emma Caldwell, Salutatorian Austin Davis, Valedictorian Daniel Aker, Class Treasurer Isabel Taylor and Vice President Anna Childers were among the students who spoke, sharing reflections, encouraging words and more, while also thanking the school for going through with the ceremony.
“I know this is not the day we pictured when we thought of finally graduating high school,” Childers said at the start of the candle-lighting ceremony. “I don’t know about you guys, but at this point I’m just thankful to be here. While it’s not what we expected, it is a blessing that we are able to gather and celebrate together one last time. Thank you to our administrators and other staff that have put in countless hours to make this happen for us.”
Rickert told the crowd on Sunday that she had promised seniors — who missed out on prom, the last weeks of high school and spring sports — that there would be an in-person graduation, if possible, and she made good on that.
“I was really happy to be able to get that done for the seniors,” she later said. “They certainly have earned it.”