Payton Sturm, right signs the national anthem while classmate Kianna Miller adds the lyrics in sign language at Sequim High School’s graduation ceremony Friday. The school, celebrating about 200 graduates, hosted a “drive in” ceremony with health restrictions in place barring large group gatherings. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Payton Sturm, right signs the national anthem while classmate Kianna Miller adds the lyrics in sign language at Sequim High School’s graduation ceremony Friday. The school, celebrating about 200 graduates, hosted a “drive in” ceremony with health restrictions in place barring large group gatherings. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Silver linings for SHS’s purple, gold at drive-in commencement ceremony

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.”

Faculty-selected speaker Meguire Vander Velde offers her thoughts to the “drive in” audience at SHS’s graduation ceremony Friday evening. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Faculty-selected speaker Meguire Vander Velde offers her thoughts to the “drive in” audience at SHS’s graduation ceremony Friday evening. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

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.

Student-selected speaker Michael McAleer addresses the “drive in” crowd at SHS’s graduation ceremony Friday evening. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Student-selected speaker Michael McAleer addresses the “drive in” crowd at SHS’s graduation ceremony Friday evening. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

“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.

Silver Linings

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.”

Samuel May, Sequim High School’s Class of 2020 valedictorian, addresses a “drive in” audience at SHS’s graduation ceremony Friday evening. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Samuel May, Sequim High School’s Class of 2020 valedictorian, addresses a “drive in” audience at SHS’s graduation ceremony Friday evening. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

“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.

Langston praised the D’Amicos, who had a senior (Nicholas) graduating Friday night, for the success of the event.

“We could not have done (this) without their support,” Langston said.

Sequim High seniors celebrate at the conclusion of their graduation ceremony on Friday, capping a school year that saw students move to remote learning in mid-March. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim High seniors celebrate at the conclusion of their graduation ceremony on Friday, capping a school year that saw students move to remote learning in mid-March. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

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.”

See more photos from the event here, along with pictures from the Class of 2020’s mini-parade leading up to graduation here.

Reporter Matthew Nash contributed to this report.

After receiving his diploma, Navy Thomas-Brenske gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

After receiving his diploma, Navy Thomas-Brenske gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

After receiving her diploma, class president Erin Dwyer gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

After receiving her diploma, class president Erin Dwyer gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Graduating senior Adam Awawda is all smiles as he receives his diploma and gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Graduating senior Adam Awawda is all smiles as he receives his diploma and gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Tigerlilly McMeen gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Tigerlilly McMeen gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Kyle Desumma gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Kyle Desumma gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim High School graduates-to-be (left) Wren Fierro Burdick and Kyle Desumma talk with teacher Michael Lippert at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim High School graduates-to-be (left) Wren Fierro Burdick and Kyle Desumma talk with teacher Michael Lippert at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Kim Rosales, far right and Mary Budke blow bubbles for Lydia Stidham and other Sequim High seniors at Friday’s graduation ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Kim Rosales, far right and Mary Budke blow bubbles for Lydia Stidham and other Sequim High seniors at Friday’s graduation ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Sequim High graduates-to-be Morgan Cariou, right, and Lydia Stidham wave to well-wishers along Washington Street just prior to Sequim High School’s graduation ceremony on June 19. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Sequim High graduates-to-be Morgan Cariou, right, and Lydia Stidham wave to well-wishers along Washington Street just prior to Sequim High School’s graduation ceremony on June 19. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Payton Sturm gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Payton Sturm gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Above: Graduating senior Adam Awawda is all smiles as he receives his diploma and gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Left: Sequim High graduates-to-be Morgan Cariou, right, and Lydia Stidham wave to well-wishers along Washington Street. Sequim Gazette photos by Michael Dashiell and Matthew Nash

Above: Graduating senior Adam Awawda is all smiles as he receives his diploma and gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Left: Sequim High graduates-to-be Morgan Cariou, right, and Lydia Stidham wave to well-wishers along Washington Street. Sequim Gazette photos by Michael Dashiell and Matthew Nash

Jax Thaxton gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Jax Thaxton gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Graduating senior Jessica Dietzman gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Graduating senior Jessica Dietzman gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Graduating senior Vita Olson gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Graduating senior Vita Olson gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Abbee Jagger gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Abbee Jagger gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Graduating senior Alexis Smith gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Graduating senior Alexis Smith gets a flower from Sequim school superintendent Dr. Rob Clark at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Araceli Lopez gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Araceli Lopez gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

New Sequim High graduate Kaylee Dunlap get a hug from dad Tracy following the SHS commencement ceremony on June 19. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

New Sequim High graduate Kaylee Dunlap get a hug from dad Tracy following the SHS commencement ceremony on June 19. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Victoria Lelle waves during a parade to the Sequim High School’s graduation on June 19. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Victoria Lelle waves during a parade to the Sequim High School’s graduation on June 19. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Sierra Hanning with her daughter Kassidy Burwash, 6, wave to graduates and their families as they drive on their way to graduation on June 19. The family members were there to support Sequim graduate Makenzie Campbell. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Sierra Hanning with her daughter Kassidy Burwash, 6, wave to graduates and their families as they drive on their way to graduation on June 19. The family members were there to support Sequim graduate Makenzie Campbell. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Payton Sturm gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Payton Sturm gets an elbow bump from Sequim High School principal Shawn Langston at Friday’s SHS commencement ceremony. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

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