The Wadena-Deer Creek class of 2020 will have a graduation ceremony like no one has ever seen before. But not by their request.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures put into place, a typical graduation with all the special music, crowded bleachers and emotional embraces were nixed weeks ago.

Plans to then have a gathering with the whole class standing 10 feet apart on the football field was halted following guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education on Friday, May 8.

Instead, seniors will go out with a bang, as in the slamming of their car door as they are one-by-one called up to a stage to receive their diploma. This elaborately safe setup will all be performed at the Wadena Municipal Airport at 7 p.m., Friday, May 22.

Students are to arrive with their family in one vehicle at 6 p.m. and remain in the vehicle until they are called up to the front through the KWAD radio broadcast of the event. Up to two additional family vehicles per student will be allowed to attend (so if a student has two sets of grandparents, they won’t have to miss the big day).

The 59 graduates will be parked in the first four rows at 15 vehicles per row.

Student speakers will come up to the stage individually to speak and students will be called individually to walk across the stage and accept their diploma. Upon leaving the vehicles they must wear a mask.

In addition to students and family, staff will also be invited to attend in vehicles. In all there could be upwards of 200 vehicles at the airport.

WDC Middle/High School Principal Tyler Church said the senior class has been a part of the planning of this from the beginning.

“They’ve been there from moment one,” Church said. “They have been adamant about, ‘Please let us have some kind of ceremony together.’”

Remote was not going to work for them. When given the options of the fairgrounds, old drive-in, school parking lot or the airport, the consensus was go with the airport. Once approved by the city and reviewed by local hospital staff at Tri-County Health Care, the decision was a go.

Church and Dean of Students and Activities Director Norm Gallant have been doing regular podcasts for the students and they've had Zoom meetings several times to keep in touch about the topic of graduation. The normal graduation that Church has been a part of for 12 years at WDC seems to be an easy production compared to this one. He expects it could take a little longer because of the time it takes seniors to come to the stage, however, without the usual musical numbers, other parts of the ceremony will be shorter.

Absent from the ceremony will be the general public, outside of the family vehicle and two additional vehicles per senior. Once all diplomas are in hand and students return to the safety of their vehicles, senior vehicles will be allowed to exit first in a parade and follow a designated route back into town where people will get a chance to watch the group pass by.

The parade route was shared Tuesday by Dean of Students Norm Gallant. He shared the following statement:

"At the conclusion of the ceremony, which we expect to be between 7:45-8 p.m., Officer Grabe will lead the 60 graduate vehicles South out of the Airport on Co. Rd. 77 across Highway 29 onto 610th Ave. The procession will continue South to 320th Ave and proceed East into SW Wadena. (This is the "Toby's Hill" Road). The procession will then turn North on 2nd Street SW past the East side of the Elementary School, turn left (West) on Bryant Ave. to the High School. The Parade will turn North on 5th Street to Community Center Drive and to the Football Lot, where we will follow the path of the "Reverse Parade." At the conclusion of the parade through the Lot, students will continue out and to their individual homes.

"We encourage the community to line the route in their vehicles or in their yards, practicing social distancing, to honk, wave, and honor our seniors as they go by. Utilize the football lot by backing into spots, as the staff did, and staying in your vehicles and honking/waving at the kids. At no time should anyone leave their vehicles at the parking lot.

"We want to appropriately honor this class and give them the best sendoff in the history of WDC."

How to tune in

If you are unable to attend the event, tune in on the radio at 920 AM KWAD/KNSP or watch the event live on the Wadena Pioneer Journal Facebook page. A broadcast should begin prior to the 7 p.m. start on Friday, May 22. If there is inclement weather, the ceremony will be postponed to Friday, May 29.