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Graduation, remixed

Medford and Central Point school districts unveiled plans for alternative graduation celebrations this week, offering seniors and their families a look at how the unconventional end to their high school careers will be commemorated.

“Now isn’t the time to focus on the virus,” said Tom Rambo, principal of Crater Academy of Health and Public Services. “We really now are looking forward to celebrating our seniors, all of their accomplishments and the bright future ahead of them.”

Both school districts will have multiple separate events, including a mix of virtual and in-person occasions arranged to accommodate physical separation.

“The Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority recognize that this creates challenges for school districts and local communities that wish to provide students an opportunity to participate in the life milestone of a graduation ceremony,” said an ODE document sent to school districts April 30.

Medford, which sent out information to seniors Friday, has four events planned to celebrate the end of seniors’ 13-year journey.

The Grad Drive comes first, on May 29, which will attempt to recreate the annual tradition of seniors returning in graduation regalia to their elementary and middle schools for a final walk-through. Typically, the younger students come out of their classrooms to line the hallways for high-fives, as seniors find their former teachers in the crowds with shouts and enthusiastic hugs.

Things will look decidedly different this year, though. Instead of taking a walk through the buildings, students will stay outside, waving to their teachers standing a safe distance away with signs on the sidewalk.

They’ll ride in school buses — 10 students per bus — through town and to their former elementary and middle schools. The drive will end at their high schools.

In Central Point, Rambo and the two other Crater principals who organized the new celebrations hoped to capture the spirit of the grad walk by incorporating it into the Graduate Parade scheduled for June 6.

The parade, which the city of Central Point approved, will go past all three of the elementary schools in town, Rambo said.

Each senior will be allowed to have one car in the parade, which a family member will have to drive so that seniors can give their full attention to any spectators.

The loss of the traditional graduation ceremony hasn’t been easy for students, parents or staff. Rambo said it took him several weeks to come to grips with the loss of the ceremony at Dutch Meyer Stadium.

But with the new events, such as the alternative graduation ceremony scheduled for after the parade ends, he has a new attitude.

“Just ‘cause it’s not traditional doesn’t mean it’s not going to be awesome,” he said.

The first part of Crater’s ceremony, which will be broadcast on Table Rock Sports, will happen live, Rambo said, with speeches by Superintendent Samantha Steele and the schools’ valedictorians. Next will be a slideshow of the graduates, featuring photos of them on the graduation stage in full regalia.

Those photos will be taken from May 18 through May 22, as students pick up their caps and gowns at the high school during specific times to avoid crowding.

A complete rundown of the information is posted to the district website at district6.org.

Medford’s graduation event will be perhaps even less traditional: students will be able to bring up to two guests to a designated spot on their high school campus for a mini-ceremony of up to seven students.

While in the small groups, students will be handed their diplomas and will mark their successful exit from high school with a turning of the tassel and a cap throw.

Senior Lauren Barry, one of the students who helped work on the alternative plans during the closure, said this is the event that she’s looking forward to the most.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” she said. “We’re all pretty excited we can have a celebration at the school even though it’s going to be smaller.”

A committee of Medford staff and students gathered feedback from seniors through a survey and other communication to get a sense of what was most important to the class of 2020 when it came to salvaging some of what they hoped to enjoy at the event.

Natalie Hurd, communications specialist with the Medford School District, acknowledged that the new schedule of events doesn’t eliminate the sadness of the events that couldn’t happen.

“But we hope it fulfills some of (seniors’) wishes that they made pretty clear in the surveys and things,” she said.

Other school districts are still finalizing their plans for alternative ceremonies. Ashland has had to go back to the drawing board after initial plans to hold a parade hit snags getting permits from the Oregon Department of Transportation and the city of Ashland.

“We’re still trying to find some way on May 29th to celebrate our seniors, but we’re just not sure what it’s going to look like yet,” said Nora Godfrey, leadership events coordinator for Ashland High School.

For now, she’s focused on making even the cap and gown pickup scheduled for the coming week as special and upbeat as possible, with music and balloons and physically distanced greetings from teachers.

As administrators continue to plan, there’s a common motivation tying their varying efforts together.

“You just want to make sure you’re doing right by these kids,” Rambo said. “You just have to work hard to do the best by them and honor them.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneNorth Medford graduate Rogue Atkinson tries on his graduation cap at his Medford residence.