Ken Pearce installing senior portrait
Pioneer Connect cable splicer Ken Pearce installs a senior banner on Main Street Tuesday in Philomath. (Photo by Pioneer Connect)

Philomath High School’s graduating seniors will receive their diplomas in two separate ceremonies on June 5 while a limited number of guests watch from the grandstands at Clemens Field. In other words, a repeat of last year’s event.

At least, that’s the current plan. But PHS Principal Mike Bussard is holding on to the hope that COVID-19 restrictions will loosen in the coming days to allow for a single ceremony. A final decision will be made on how the commencement will be conducted on May 28.

“I’m hoping it’s going to happen,” Bussard said during Monday night’s Philomath School Board meeting. “To give our seniors a sense of normalcy at the end of this crazy year would be wonderful in my book.”

On Monday, details of the graduation ceremony were discussed during a senior meeting. 

“One of the strongest messages that we can convey to all of our seniors and their families is we have a couple of weeks left — do the right thing, make sure that we’re abiding by protocols and it doesn’t blow up individual participation at graduation or graduation in general.”

The current plan is for two separate ceremonies with one group going at 10 a.m. and the second group following at noon. School officials will be watching the COVID-19 metrics up until May 28.

“If the metrics drop — and our fingers are crossed — we really want to get to this point that we can combine those two ceremonies and have one ceremony,” Bussard said. “We’re talking about it being at either 10 or 11 a.m. … Right now, we are planning on students being allowed four family members to join them at graduation.”

The graduation will feature both Philomath High and Philomath Academy seniors with that combined number somewhere in the vicinity of 120 students. If each student brings four family members, that’s 480 people, plus teachers, board members and other participants.

“Something we’ve told our seniors over and over again is we’re going to do what we can working with the rules that we are operating by to make it as inclusive as possible,” Bussard said.

The graduation ceremony will allow board members and teachers within the stadium this year, Bussard said, and added that the PHS band will also be playing. Auditions were occurring this week among students for who gets the honor of singing the national anthem and giving speeches.

Bussard said the high school has been working hard with students to get them to the diploma walk.

“That is our primary focus right now and it takes up a large portion of our day — making sure that we are doing whatever we can that every senior crosses that finish line,” he said. “Our students get across the finish line in different ways and to get there to the end is the important piece and as you look down the road that you made it in this most trying year is the most important thing.”

Philomath Academy Principal Dan Johnson said graduation will be live-streamed again this year “so we can increase our visibility, at least for those who can’t make it into the stands.”

As one might expect, the seniors will be busy with various activities leading up to the big day. Their final day in class will be June 3 and the following morning, graduates will pick up their caps and gowns and take individual and group pictures for the photos that go up on the wall in the high school and also for their senior portrait packets, Bussard said.

Also on that Thursday, the seniors will parade to the other campuses in the school district and then go through a graduation practice. That evening beginning at 7 p.m., seniors will participate in a parade through the community in the same fashion as last year’s graduating class.

In other graduate-related news items, senior lawn signs will be handed out on Wednesday and senior portraits went up around town on Tuesday.

“I wanted to thank just everyone who’s making graduation as normal and as celebratory as possible, like those that stepped up last year for our seniors,” board member Shelley Niemann said. “I thank all of the parents, volunteers, staff members, that are helping making this a special time for them.”

Kings Valley Charter School will have a graduating class of 10 seniors, Diane Barnhart reported during the board meeting. She said the rural school is planning to have an outdoor ceremony similar to last year on June 12.

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Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.