I recently attended two graduation ceremonies. Friday evening in Canby and Saturday morning at Lac qui Parle Valley. The corona-virus pandemic has forced school officials to scramble and figure out a way to recognize the seniors. That was no easy task due to the restrictions put on by the state and health department. However, both schools and communities came through for the graduates and their families. It wasn’t a normal graduation commencement by any means, but both of the commencements were very personal and memorable.

Canby diploma pick up

If I may add what my personal thoughts were before I got involved with planning and attending these graduation commencements. It will sound harsh, but hear me out. I did feel terrible for all seniors missing out on the last few months of their senior year, I felt so bad for them. First, I am not a parent or grandparent of a senior this year so I wasn’t emotionally involved. My thoughts were, why even bother with a graduation ceremony? We are in the middle of a pandemic! Just send them their diploma in the mail, everyone knows they are graduating. You can’t meet in large groups or even small groups for that matter, so why even bother to try and figure out a way to get together and have a graduation ceremony. Yeah, it’s a tough break but let’s just move on. That is what I was thinking early on in this process. I told you my early thoughts were harsh, sorry! But boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. So wrong!

Dr. Robert Slaba, principal at Canby High School contacted me about a month ago and asked if KLQP radio would be interested in broadcasting the Canby commencement program. We said absolutely. The original plan was to hold it at the Canby football field, but after the governor’s office came out with guidelines and restrictions about graduation ceremonies which said no football fields are to be used, that plan was dropped. I believe things happen for a reason. Canby has a beautiful park in the middle of town, it’s called Central Park and that was the site chosen by Dr. Slaba and his team.

Friday night in Canby turned out to be a very special night for the Canby seniors and parents. All graduates and parents sat in their decorated cars around Central Park. Everyone had their radio’s tuned to 92.1fm. Dr. Slaba, myself, and Superintendent Nielsen were under the park shelter with the radio equipment broadcasting live. We had prerecorded the senior speeches and some other parts of the ceremony. To watch the graduates drive around the block with their parents to pick up their diplomas from their cars was strange to watch. However, to see the smiles on their faces and the honking of car horns, and too listen to Dr. Slaba speak of the cooperation he received from the seniors and parents and the community of Canby actually brought tears to my eyes! The parade around the town after the commencement was amazing as well. The Canby business community is so supportive of their school, I visited with most of them this past week and they all talked about what a great school they have. Driving home Friday night, I was embarrassed to think we didn’t need to do a graduation ceremony.

Lac qui Parle Valley’s commencement was held in the school parking lot Saturday morning. It was misty and looked like it might rain all morning, but Princapal Scott Swatazky made the decision to not postpone or cancel it. It was a go at 10am on 92.1fm. The LQPV graduates and parents were in vehicles facing the front of the school building where the stage was set. The student speeches and especially Mr. Sawatzky’s ending speech were remarkable. I thought it was a great idea to include the parents in the graduation ceremony, it made it more personal. It was a very emotional commencement.

So my final thoughts about the graduation commencements.

I apologize to you seniors for thinking that because of the corona-virus you didn’t need a graduation ceremony. I am sorry and I was so wrong. It is a very tough time for all of us with this pandemic going on. Things are not the same and we need to do things differently. What the school did for you was amazing, what the community did for you was amazing, parading you around town and the support they have shown. You deserved to be recognized! It was two of the best and most memorable graduation commencements I have ever been a part of. Congratulations seniors!

Canby 2020 Commencement Program

LQPV 2020 Commencement Program

LQPV 2020 Commencement Program part 2

Photo credits: C Edwards Studio, Krista Citrowske, Erica Fernholz, Val Halvorson

Tony Ourada - State Farm ad


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