Graduation 2020: Local high schools plan safety-conscious ceremonies for seniors

— Created June 10, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kacie Jo Voeller

            This Saturday, high schools across Whidbey Island will honor the class of 2020 with graduation ceremonies. However, this year’s events will look different from a traditional graduation, with schools implementing measures such as social distancing, masks and in some cases, drive-up ceremonies in keeping with guidelines based on preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

            Oak Harbor High School will hold its graduation ceremony, a drive through event in the school’s parking lot, starting at approximately 2 p.m. Saturday. However, depending on a student’s last name, students will be arriving at different times, ranging from 1:40 p.m. to 5:25 p.m. – a full list of arrival times can be found at The ceremony will feature both pre-recorded and live portions with a drive-up style ceremony.

            Seniors from Coupeville High School will celebrate graduation Saturday starting at 5 p.m. at the school. Seniors will have a scheduled walking time for graduation to avoid gathering in large groups of people, and social distancing and masks will be required for all participants. For safety purposes, only the members of each student’s household will be allowed to attend the in-person ceremony. Visit for school information.

            South Whidbey High School’s graduation celebration will feature a parade starting at 12:00 p.m., followed by a drive-up ceremony at the high school starting at 12:45 p.m. Participants are encouraged to decorate their vehicles for the event. The campus will be closed to all foot traffic during the ceremony. More information can be found at

            Nate Salisbury, principal of Oak Harbor High School, said the ceremony will serve as a culmination of the Senior Farewell Tour 2020, in which seniors were honored by events including surprise visits to drop off senior yard signs and a senior breakfast, which was a park and dine style at the school parking lot.

“This is the culmination of everything, the K-12 experience,” he said. “This is it and so this is why we have worked so hard at making sure these students are honored for their accomplishments.”

Salisbury said each student will have a chance to get out of their car and walk across an outdoor stage to get their diploma cover and have a photo taken while their name is announced and more information about each student is shared. Other family members or friends in attendance will need to remain in the vehicle brought to the ceremony.

“I am pretty excited about what we have done, actually, and I think in many ways maybe it is a little more special even than normal because it is so individualized,” he said. “Each kid gets their own time on the stage to be recognized in a way that is unique. In the beginning I was worried that these kids were going to be cheated out of a ceremony that was really important, and I do not feel like that anymore after I know what we have put together.”

            Ridgely Briddell, an Oak Harbor High School senior, said while the year’s events have been unexpected, the community and school still found ways to honor students.

“I know that even with the limitations they have, they have been doing a really great job with still putting on events and making it feel like we are graduating still, despite all of the regulations and not being able to have big groups of people,” he said. “The parade was really nice because we got to see all of our teachers again and be back at the school.”

Briddell, who will be attending the University of Washington with an Air Force ROTC scholarship, said continuing to move forward despite the challenges presented this year has been key for the class of 2020. 

“For takeaways from this experience, I would say you cannot always be prepared for everything but just know that things can go wrong, and you have got to keep pushing forward with what you can do,” he said. “That is how it has been this whole spring, kind of just seeing what we can do with what we have got.”

Steve King, superintendent of Coupeville School District, said Coupeville High School has worked to find ways to honor students while adapting the ceremony to meet safety protocols. To help make the ceremony both special and safe, senior parent volunteers decorated masks for seniors to wear at graduation.

             “We really wanted to provide an in-person recognition for our students at Coupeville High School,” he said. “This is a tradition and is important to our students, families, and our community. At the same time, it is important that we keep our community safe and healthy, so we came up with a creative, modified graduation that we think serves both purposes.”

            King said he feels the class of 2020 has overcome many challenges on the way to graduation.

“The class of 2020 has made huge sacrifices on behalf of public health,” he said. “Given the sacrifice and challenges they have had to overcome, I believe that they will be very well prepared for their lives ahead. No class has ever had to face this kind of adversity. It is such a great sacrifice on their part and they have been very positive in the way they have handled the disappointment of losing all the experiences that seniors usually have. I am very impressed with them and their resilience.” 

Levi Buck, a senior student at South Whidbey High School and co-president of the class, said the support from the surrounding community has been evident.

“Our school and community has done a lot to honor us as seniors,” he said. “I think my favorite so far was the yard signs that teachers delivered to each student. The fact that teachers took time to sign each one of those signs really meant a lot to me and showed how truly invested in us our school and community is.”

Buck, who will attend the University of Puget Sound and plans to pursue a teaching degree, said this year has been a learning experience. 

“I think that if there is one thing I have learned from this experience it is that we have to learn to enjoy life as it happens, because we never know what the future will hold,” he said. “I have developed a newfound respect for living life in the moment, as no one ever truly knows what will transpire tomorrow.”

Mallory Drye, a senior at South Whidbey High School and the co-president of the class, said facing the challenges of 2020 has fostered a sense of maturity.

“I think we have definitely grown a lot as people,” she said. “And we have learned to stay connected even though we are at a distance and we have had to carry on and adjust to the new norm.”

            Drye, who plans to attend Pacific Lutheran University, said she hopes her fellow classmates make the most of the time remaining as seniors, even though it may look different than expected. She said she is looking forward to the individualized, drive-up graduation ceremony planned for her and her class.

“I have to say to my classmates that we went through a really challenging time and even though we were at a distance, we did it together,” she said. “We are coming to an end, so it is just important that we value this time and what we have left and realize how many people put the work into making this special time for us, like our graduation. I want to thank everyone on the graduation committee and all of my teachers and classmates of course.”