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Southridge High School and the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy both celebrated seniors virtually and in-person.

COURTESY PHOTO: SOUTHRIDGE HIGH SCHOOL - Southridge High School planned a two-part graduation with a virtual celebration that then followed a drive-thru graduation parade at SRHS earlier this month.

A new school year is right around the corner, but some high schools in the Beaverton School District made sure to honor 2020 graduates with a virtual or drive-thru commencement before the end of summer.

Originally, Southridge High School had an in-person ceremony planned — twice actually — but were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The school then planned a two-part graduation with a virtual celebration that followed a drive-thru graduation parade at SRHS earlier this month.

"(The parade) was sponsored by our PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) where we had raffle prizes, food, music, and then the conferring of the diploma by SRHS in person," said Southridge High School principal David Nieslanik. "The students stayed in their cars until the very end where they hopped out, walked up the red carpet through a tunnel of staff, and then received their diploma from the superintendent, our school board representative Susan Greenberg, and myself."

Nieslanik added that it was complex to plan the ceremony because regulations kept changing regarding the virus. He said it was important to land on an experience celebrated at home with families and in-person through a parade.

For 2020 Southridge High School graduate Isaiah Wachsmuth, he appreciated the drive-thru graduation because he was able to celebrate with others — even if it was behind a mask.

"It's so cool to see your teachers there one more time and have your parents be able to have that experience driving through because they get to be really close to you as you're walking across the stage," said Wachsmuth.

COURTESY PHOTO: ANDREW WACHSMUTH - Isaiah Wachsmuth drives through the graduation parade while his father, Andrew Wachsmuth, stands outside. The 17-year-old was excited to participate in the event.

He added, "I didn't think it would be like that necessarily. I thought it might just be that they hand you your diploma while you're sitting."

Despite not being concerned with traditional events such as prom, Wachsmuth does wish the commencement ceremonies were put together earlier in the summer.

"I had already kind of come to terms with the fact that I was graduated long before I actually had my graduation, so it felt a little after the fact, but it is pretty cool the amount of work they put into it," he said.

What about advice for next year's seniors?

Wachsmuth says friendships are key for survival — no matter what graduation may look be.

"Even though school might be online for them, try not to just be content with sitting in your bedroom all the time but trying to still exercise and continue to maintain your friendships," he said.

COURTESY PHOTO: SOUTHRIDGE HIGH SCHOOL - At Southridge High Schools drive-thru graduation, students stayed in their cars until the very end where they hopped out, walked up, and then received their diploma.

As for other schools in the district, the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy also held a similar drive-thru senior event where students could turn in Chromebooks, instruments, and books while wearing their caps and gowns.

ACMA principal, Bjorn Paige, said students were able to get a photo in front of the school, which staff later used for a virtual graduation ceremony.

"(They) were cheered on by masked, socially distanced ACMA staff," recalled Paige. "Many decorated their cars, and it was a fun event."

The virtual graduation also included recorded student and staff speeches, a recording from ACMA's traditional bagpiper, and a couple of prerecorded musical numbers.

"For us to do nothing didn't feel right. These are our students, and we wanted very much to honor the graduates," Paige said. "We also did not want to put anyone — including students, staff, or families — at any risk."

He added, "It's our hope to invite ACMA 2020 grads back to campus when the pandemic is over, perhaps even inviting them to our new campus, which is under construction now and slated to open in the fall of 2021, to sign yearbooks and celebrate with each other again."

Over at Southridge, Nieslanis hopes he can celebrate rising seniors no matter the circumstances next spring.

"I hope we can hold a traditional celebration," he added. "But, with this said, we loved the drive-through parade experience. It was fun, celebratory, exciting, inclusive, and more relaxed. There were a lot of smiles, air hugs, and fist bumps from afar."

COURTESY PHOTO: SOUTHRIDGE HIGH SCHOOL - The graduation parade at Southridge High School included raffle prizes, food, music, and handing out diplomas to graduates.


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