Virtual Graduation

Kayla Soderlund walks across the stage to receive her diploma from her parents. (Photo courtesy of St. Peter Public Schools)

The St. Peter High School class of 2020 saw its last day of secondary education Thursday, though it wasn’t inside a school building.

As the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way the world operates, schools across Minnesota have been closed since March, forcing students and teachers to grapple with distance learning and taking away a number of experiences for students, specifically seniors. One of those opportunities lost was the 2020 in-person graduation ceremony.

Instead, around 170 members of the St. Peter High School senior class took part in the 2020 SPHS Virtual Graduation walk-through taping sessions over two days at the Performing Arts Center. SPHS seniors were allowed to have up to two parents/guardians/family members on stage during the taping sessions when they received their diplomas. The walk-throughs were spaced out over a two-day period so social distancing guidelines could be followed.

“We wish something different for them — something much more like the experience that we had at our own high school graduations,” SPHS Principal Annette Engeldinger said in a message to students. “That being said, we are also ethically responsible for following the rules and guidelines provided by the Minnesota Department of Health, the Center for Disease Contro, and Gov. Tim Walz. While there are many fun and creative ideas for graduations, the size of our graduating class (more than 180 students) prohibits them, as they do not adhere to the rules which are in place to protect our students, their families and our staff.”

The taping of the virtual ceremony went off without a hitch, and the video is expected to be broadcasted from 7 p.m. Friday, May 29 on the St. Peter School District website and on the St. Peter Public Access television channel.

Community efforts

A St. Peter class of 2020 support group, headed by two-senior parent Emily Soderlund, is hosting a parade for the seniors on May 28 at 7:30 p.m. The seniors will be parked along County Road 20, and the community can enter the route from Broadway and exit northbound. The community and the seniors must stay in their vehicles at all times. No passing of cards, gifts, food or drinks.

The students will be on the route for one hour.

“We encourage the community to honk, make signs, decorate their vehicles and celebrate the graduating class of 2020,” Soderlund said.

The group also turned to the city of Kasota to organize a fireworks show for the class of 2020. That show will take place at 10 p.m. Friday, May 29 at Kasota Municipal Park.

The SPHS senior class and their families are invited to attend the display. Vehicles can be parked along Webster, Ridgley (on the sholder) and Allen streets, surrounding the park on both sides of the street if needed. There is also a small parking lot off Ridgely Street where a limited number of vehicles can be parked.

Seniors and their families will be permitted to be outside their vehicles while maintaining a 6-foot distance from other students and families. Volunteers and law enforcement will be present to help ensure there is no gathering of any kind during the display. Any parents in attendance are also asked to help ensure social distancing is being followed.

The length of the display is yet to be determined, depending on how much money is raised, but will likely run between 10 and 15 minutes. Immediately following the end of the fireworks, everyone must leave the Kasota Municipal Park area.

“Organizing this event has been a roller coaster, presenting 100 challenges for every solution, but with the help of the volunteers, and the enthusiasm of the city of Kasota, it is 100% happening,” Soderlund said. “When I started on this journey to honor and celebrate the SPHS seniors, I knew it would be a marathon, and we are finally at the finish line. I am so excited to give these kids a safe and fun way to stand together, one last time, from a distance. Congratulations again to the St. Peter 2020 graduates.”

Reach Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8567 or follow him on Twitter @EditorPhilipWeyhe. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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