With plenty of pomp and circumstance without the “Pomp and Circumstance,” members of Sequim High School’s Class of 2020 got a send-off last week unlike any other in the school’s 100-plus-year history.
Despite having to learn remotely for the final three months of their final prep year, the majority of the class’ 171 graduating seniors took the stage to cheers and honks of the drive-in crowd on June 19, held at Joe and Jamie D’Amico’s Security Services Northwest property east of downtown Sequim.
“It was not the graduation we were expecting,” faculty-elected speaker Meguire Vander Velde noted, “but it will be one for the history books.”
Sequim High principal Shawn Langston noted some of the highlights this year’s SHS seniors missed over the past three months due to the outbreak of COVID-19, including the annual operetta, the choir’s trip to Disneyland, Senior Ball, Scholarship Night, spring sports, Campus Day and more.
Their resilience, Langston said, made the staff’s selection for the annual U-Turn Award — an honor that traditionally goes to a single student who overcomes great odds to earn a diploma — an easy one: the Class of 2020 would collectively take it home.
“We’ve been extremely impressed with how they’ve handled all of this,” Langston said.
It was a sentiment echoed by class-elected speaker Michael McAleer.
“Sequim High’s Class of 2020, McAleer said, would “be remembered for not for what we lost but for how we bounced back.”
The graduating class of 2020 will always be remembered for what was taken away from us, but I think we will be remembered for more than that; we will be remembered for how we bounced back,” McAleer said.
“And just like freshly-shaven eyebrows, we will come back and flourish even better than before.”
Sequim graduate Angel Kee, said prior to the ceremony this school year was actually a blessing to her.
“Last year was rough because I was in the hospital and faced a lot of rough situations,” she said.
As a second-year senior, Kee said she “powered” through her school year and plans to begin her education to become a registered nurse at Peninsula College this fall.
The graduation ceremony was special to her, too because she grew up going to drive-in movie theaters.
“This is better than I imagined,” Kee said.
Friday night’s event was shifted from the SHS sports stadium off West Fir Street to the D’Amico’s property at the Security Services Northwest to accommodate social distancing made possible by having a “drive-in” style graduation, a change made ineluctable by statewide health restrictions that forced school closures in mid-March.
Graduate Connor Gosset said the school year was weird but he found it worked well for him in its final months.
“I passed my classes while working at Sunny Farms full-time starting in March,” he said.
“It was a lot more flexible and simpler. I even got better grades than before.”
Staff and students chose to see silver linings in the new commencement setting, filling the mown field with cars packed with family members and celebrating their classmates with speeches from McAleer, Vander Velde and class valedictorian Samuel May, who told classmates that “our true virtue lies in how we change the things we can change” and added inspired lines from Max Ehrmann’s poem, “Desiderata.”
“What an atmosphere, what a venue, what a night; it will be memorable for all the right reasons,” Sequim schools superintendent Dr. Rob Clark said.
Prior to graduation, many of the graduates-to-be and their families drove down Washington Street to the graduation grounds in a celebratory parade.
Parents of graduating seniors also got creative, tweaking the traditional Senior Party into a drive-in movie night, also held at the Security Services Northwest property.
The ceremony included pointed remarks toward social change, just a few days after scores of SHS students took part in Black Lives Matter protests in Sequim.
“I am confident the students of Sequim High School are ready to jump into the fight for equality and justice for all,” Langston said.
In his brief comments, Clark advised, “I hope you build relationships, especially with those who don’t look like you or think like you,” and added later, “I’m optimistic everyone in this class … is up to the challenge.”
Reporter Matthew Nash contributed to this report.