Camas-Washougal high school graduation events planned

Washougal will host parade, sunset-viewing event; Camas schools plan virtual June graduations with culminating events possible later this summer, fall

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(Post-Record file photo) Washougal High graduates from the Class of 2019 celebrate their graduation at Fishback Stadium in June 2019. This year's graduating seniors will not be able to have in-person graduation events thanks to ongoing shutdowns meant to stem the spread of COVID-19, but Washougal High school leaders have planned online recognition of seniors through May, as well as other virtual celebrations, a parade through Washougal and a sunset-viewing event in early June.

It may not be the graduation they expected thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 shutdowns, but graduating high school seniors in Camas and Washougal can still expect to be honored for their achievements this year. 

Camas School Board members discussed graduation plans at their April 27 board meeting.

“We are committed to recognize these seniors and their achievement following whatever guidelines are in place,” Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell said. “Because our graduations are scheduled for (June 12) and (June 13) prior to the June 19 end of remote learning, it is not feasible to do an onsite event as scheduled.” 

Snell said Camas High and Hayes Freedom educators are surveying seniors and their families to help plan a culminating event later in the summer or in the fall. 

Each school also will host a virtual graduation event in June, but details of those events have not yet been released. 

“The district will provide resources to support the (virtual graduation) endeavor,” Snell said. “Each school will identify the platform that works for them.”

Snell said the district would release more details about graduation ceremonies and culminating events in the coming weeks. 

“We’re disappointed that we cannot continue the great graduation traditions we’ve come to know and love, but we do still believe we can honor this class of students,” he said. “They are providing us with some great ideas and the staff at both Camas High and Hayes Freedom High are working hard to deliver on those ideas.”

Washougal plans virtual kudos, sunset-viewing event and parade

Efforts to honor the graduating Class of 2020 in Washougal get underway this week. 

Beginning Wednesday, May 6, Washougal High School will begin spotlighting the Class of 2020 by highlighting 10 to 15 graduating seniors on the school’s social media pages each day through June 1. 

“Washougal High School is big on tradition, and we tried to stick with what (seniors normally do) as much as possible,” said senior Maliyah Veale, the school’s Associated Student Body’s parliamentarian and sergeant-at-arms. “We did have to change some things and add some new ideas because we can’t be all together.”

The celebration for Washougal’s graduating seniors continues after the online Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tributes have ended. On June 2, teachers will post video messages to seniors, also on the school’s social media pages.   

On June 3, the school will hold its annual “Senior Tea” and awards event through a yet-to-be-determined virtual platform. 

The school will host a virtual senior assembly on June 4. 

The celebrations are set to culminate on June 5, with a parade and sunset-viewing event. The Class of 2020 graduates will drive their own vehicles (or ride in a family member’s vehicle) along a route that takes them from Fishback Stadium through Washogual and back to the stadium, where they will watch the sun go down from their vehicles while maintaining social distance.

“I can’t say I’m super excited (about these activities),” said Washougal High senior Emma Spaeth, a senior class senator. “The parade idea is cool, and we’re excited about that. But having the senior assembly and tea (virtually) isn’t sitting right with everybody. But it’s nice that (the school district leaders) are making such a big effort to make things as normal as possible for us. They have our best interests at heart.”

After schools around the state were shuttered for the rest of the school year in April due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Washougal High principal Sheree Gomez-Clark sent a survey to her seniors, asking them for their ideas about how to proceed with traditional senior events.

“It was important (for them to be involved in the process) because this is their time,” Gomez-Clark said. “For the last 13 years they’d had adults making a lot of decisions for them, to help them guide where they’re going. But the reality is that this is their senior year, and they don’t get to participate in most of the culminating traditions of being a senior. Why not give them a voice in how we celebrate them? They had great ideas; kids tend to naturally think outside the box while the adults are stuck in the box a lot of the time. This gives us a chance to honor their voice. We can’t give them what they’re expecting, but maybe by giving them a voice, a bit of the sting is taken out. The other part is they get to create new traditions, and to be part of something bigger than a pandemic is pretty unique.”

Washougal High leaders formed a team, composed of certified and classified staff members, and parent and student representatives, to formulate a plan using the ideas from the surveys and input from students and parents, who filled Clark’s inbox with “100 emails per day” with their thoughts about senior celebration events. 

“That team said, ‘OK, from (the ideas) that we’re seeing the most, what do we want to do, and what’s not doable?’” Gomez-Clark said. “From there, we took our five big ideas and said, ‘How can we make this happen?’ For every one of those ideas, we had to have three different contingency plans. What if we have the current orders still in place? What if they’re lifted, but we’re restricted to numbers? And what if things open up? It was crazy. The other biggest factor is that because (Washington Governor Jay Inslee) said that we can’t have any gatherings on campus, even if we were able to figure out something to do on the field with proper social distancing, we couldn’t do it.”

Gomez-Clark said that “the biggest takeaway is that our students and families really want to have an in-person graduation ceremony, even if it’s delayed.”

“That’s our biggest goal,” she said. “We are looking at two or three dates for an in-person ceremony. We’d like to find that sweet spot before they head to college — later in the summer or early fall. We’re meeting with district administrators (this) week to talk more about those dates. That way families have time to plan, even if they’re (given) tentative dates.”

“Our class is really close-knit. We’re like a family,” Spaeth said. “All of us being together for something as special as a graduation ceremony is important to all of us. I’m definitely proud of my class. We stood up for what we wanted, and we made that clear.”

Through the activity selection process, the seniors expressed their desire to “be recognized and acknowledged, and to make sure that people don’t forget they are graduating,” according to Gomez-Clark.

“I hope that what they hear is that we care, and they know we are working really hard on it,” she said. “No matter what, (the end to their senior year) is going to be memorable, but we want them to be able to say, ‘Wow, I remember my high school did this and this, my teachers and administrators really did care for me, and that’s one of the reasons I love Washougal.’ I know it’s hard for them to see that now because they are feeling a sense of loss, but I don’t want their senior year to be defined by that feeling.”

“For the most part, the seniors are upset,” said Veale, who plans to attend Washington State University in the fall. “Everyone feels like they got the last part of their high school experience ripped away from them. But we have to recognize that even though we might not be able to graduate and do the things that we were supposed to do, we are staying safe and not getting sick. We’re all staying away from that kind of risk. This will all be over soon. That’s what I keep telling my friends. We will see each other again.”

Gomez-Clark said that although the situation has “caused a lot of anxiety and tension” for some seniors, “overall, they are doing great.”

“They’re embracing the change,” she said. “They have every right to be upset, but they’ve responded so well. I’m not surprised at how they’ve handled this because they’re fantastic kids, but I am surprised at how quickly they jumped in and said, ‘OK, let’s do this. We’ll figure something out, push through it and have a great time.’”

“(The situation) still hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Spaeth, who will head to Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, in the fall to study nursing. “It’s sad to think about. We’re coming to terms that things won’t be normal, but we’re trying to make them as normal as we can.”