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Schools finding ways to celebrate class of 2020

A lot of plans have changed for graduating high school seniors this year. But while they aren’t able to hold traditional commencement ceremonies due to COVID-19 concerns, area schools are getting creative at celebrating their graduates.

This weekend, graduating seniors from Tracy Area and Russell-Tyler-Ruthton High Schools will be hitting the road for drive-up commencements.

“We wanted to do something that would be memorable for our seniors, while still following the (social distancing) guidelines,” said TAHS Superintendent Chad Anderson.

Drive-up ceremonies — where graduates will stay in their vehicles — will start at 2 p.m. Sunday at both TAHS in Tracy and RTR High School in Tyler.

Precautions against COVID-19 have posed challenges for graduations all across Minnesota. State guidelines say traditional graduations in a gym or auditorium are risky because they bring large groups of people close together. With that option gone, area high schools area trying different methods to celebrate the class of 2020. This week, Marshall High School filmed individual short graduation ceremonies with students that will be edited together into a “virtual graduation” program.

Tracy and RTR opted to have drive-up ceremonies. Graduating seniors and their families will each be allowed a vehicle at commencement, which will be held in the school parking lot. Superintendent David Marlette said the plans at RTR include a stage area with a video screen in the high school parking lot.

“When it’s time for graduates to get their diploma, we’ll have the car go up, and hand it to them,” he said. There will also be a balloon release for graduates, instead of the traditional tossing of caps, he said.

While attendance at the drive-up ceremonies will be limited, officials at TAHS and RTR said some additional events are planned to help community members celebrate the new graduates.

At TAHS, a car parade through Tracy will follow the ceremony, Anderson said. Graduates in their vehicles will be led by local police and firefighters, he said.

RTR will be livestreaming the commencement ceremony, as well as broadcasting on the radio, Marlette said. While Marlette said the school district isn’t organizing a parade for graduates, community events are planned in Russell, Tyler and Ruthton. A “recessional” of graduates will pass through each community after Sunday’s ceremony.

Lakeview High School will also be holding a drive-up graduation, although it will be held a little later. Graduating seniors will be filmed getting their diplomas individually. Then, on June 5, a drive-up ceremony will be held in the school parking lot in Cottonwood, followed by a car parade through the communities of Cottonwood and Wood Lake.

Minneota High School opted to hold off on its commencement ceremony until June 26.

“We’re still getting the details together,” said Minneota Superintendent Dan Deitte. The extra time will hopefully give the school time to learn of any changes in state guidance on graduations, he said.

While the plan is still tentative, Deitte said Minneota could also have a drive-up graduation, with a parade for students afterward.

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