Washougal OKs in-person graduation ceremony for class of 2021

School district will host outside event 'rain or shine' on June 12

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category icon Camas, COVID-19 coverage, Latest News, News, Schools, Washougal
Community members celebrate Washougal High seniors during a senior car parade on Main Street in downtown Washougal on June 5, 2020. The school district debuted the senior parade in 2020 after it was forced to cancel its traditional, in-person graduation ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The parade was so successful, the Washougal School District has decided to make it an annual tradition. (Contributed photo by Rene Carroll, courtesy of Washougal School District)

Mary Templeton’s main concern about the Washougal School District’s plans for its upcoming in-person graduation ceremony doesn’t have anything to do with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We just hope it doesn’t rain,” said Templeton, the district’s superintendent. “That’s something that we can’t control. I don’t think we’re going inside. If it’s raining on us and we have a plan and we can be in-person to celebrate our wonderful seniors, we’re just going to get our hair wet. That’s just how it’s going to have to be.”

Rain or shine, the district will celebrate its class of 2021 with a graduation ceremony at Fishback Stadium on June 12.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Washougal High School principal Sheree Clark. “We’re being cautious about it, but we also understand that people want to have a graduation outdoors. We’re definitely taking all the mitigating factors (into consideration) to make sure that it’s safe. But we’re trying to make sure that we have as much there that would be at a traditional graduation as possible. It’s costing a little more, and it’s taking a little bit more work, but it’s worth it for us to provide this for our kids.”

Templeton said she believes an outdoor ceremony is “doable” for the district.

“We, of course, are looking to the governor, and we’ll see what he does … and there are some caveats — if we were to go back to Phase 2 — that we would still be able to do in-person,” she said. “By gum, we’re going to get those children on a stage of some nature. They might get ‘air high-fives’ instead of handshakes, but we want to celebrate our kids. We’re excited about the opportunity that we have right now with the safety guidelines.”

Every graduating student at Washougal High will receive two tickets to the ceremony, which will be livestreamed on the school’s YouTube channel. Clark said she’s also trying to arrange for a live broadcast in the school’s auditorium to allow for more “in-person” spectators.

“Right now, the state is mandating that we can’t have more than 400 people, so we are erring on the side of caution with the two tickets per student,” Clark said. “We’re hoping that we can get more tickets for students. We know that a lot of students have two sets of parents and that can be a real challenge, but we have to work with Clark County on that and see if we can get approval. If we can, we will. But right now, it’s two people.”

The commencement exercise will culminate a week-long series of senior-focused celebrations, including a tea and an awards ceremony on June 10, and a parade and sunset-viewing event on June 11.

“I think (the seniors) are pretty excited to have some of these senior events that didn’t happen last year,” Clark said. “But some things, like the two-ticket limit, have been really frustrating for them. We remind them that this is more than we had last year and to keep that in their hearts, and hopefully that will help with some of the things that they don’t get.”

Washougal High’s 2020 graduates participated in a downtown parade, socially-distanced sunset-viewing event and virtual commencement ceremony. The district hoped to bring them back for an in-person ceremony later in the summer, but was forced to scuttle those plans as COVID-19 numbers continued to increase.

“It was rough last year,” Templeton said. “The parade was a response to COVID because we were trying to find something safe to celebrate the kids, but that thing was so successful and popular that it’s something that we’re going to do every year. It’s the new tradition. We’re excited about that. It’s a wonderful way for this community (to celebrate). I’ve never seen a community more supportive of public education than the Washougal community. They get to come out and celebrate the seniors specifically, but also our youth and our students and the hope and resiliency that they represent. It’s exciting.”

The Camas School District has announced its graduation ceremonies will take place on June 11 for Camas High’s class of 2021 and on June 12 for graduates of Hayes Freedom High, but has not yet said if the ceremonies will be in-person or held remote due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are still working on what the ceremony will look like and where it will be, based on COVID protocols,” the Hayes Freedom website for class of 2021 graduates states. “We will send out information as soon as we have a clear plan.”

Likewise, the Camas High School website shows graduation plans have not yet been finalized: “We will be celebrating the class of 2021 in a graduation ceremony on June 11,” the website states. “Details to come.”