The Waterloo High School Class of 2020 chose “Stole the Show” by Kygo as its class song, but people watching the livestream of Sunday’s three-hour event may not have known this. As each student approached the outdoor stage, placed in front of the elementary school entrance, a song of their choosing was played. While some of the graduates decided to use “Stole the Show,” others decided on Vitamin C’s “Graduation,” one picked Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” and one elected to have a video game theme song.
With the world still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, the Waterloo School District chose to scrap plans to hold a typical ceremony later in the summer and opted to have a drive-through style commencement.
The graduation ceremony may not have been what the Class of 2020 imagined, but it did allow for a slower pace with plenty of time of individual photos along with more traditional aspects.
Beginning at noon, students were able to arrive within a one-hour time period based on their last names. As they pulled up to the curb, their path from vehicle, to stage and back to the vehicle was tracked by the Waterloo local cable access crew.
To prevent physical contact, each student crossed the stage where diplomas were set out on a table for them to pick up. The graduates posed for a photo and turned their own tassels with the Waterloo Pirates backdrop hanging behind them.
Students then proceeded to pick up their graduation bag which included the class flower and grab their banner, which had previously been hung along the fence as a way for the community to recognize the students.
The district did retain some elements of a typical ceremony – District Administrator Brian Henning handed out graduation programs to each vehicle and parents filmed and took pictures of their seniors as they walked across the stage.
Approximately 10 district staff members were on hand to celebrate the graduates; others present along with the cable station crew were High Energy Mobile DJs owner and local resident Scott Quimby – who served as the emcee, photographer and local resident Sadye Ring, and managing editor of The Courier newspaper, Amber Gerber.
Since extended family, friends and community members were unable to attend in person, there was a livestream of the event.
Without the traditional ceremony, the class president, salutatorian and valedictorian were not able to give their speeches in person. Instead, the remarks were pre-recorded and available on the district’s website.
Class President Lily Stonestreet said a video seemed like an unimaginable way to say good-bye to her classmates, “but we’ve always joked about our bad luck… so it seems logical that our senior year and graduation would be canceled because of a global pandemic.”
She continued to highlight her speech with humor while at the same time providing sentimental reminders for the seniors to not forget their humble beginnings in Waterloo.
“No matter where we are headed, you guys will always be my home,” Stonestreet said. “Not this town, not this school, but each and every one of my 61 peers.”
Salutatorian Makenna Holzhueter while the Waterloo Class of 2020 may be disappointed that they would not be accepting their diplomas on the football field, they were making history by having a new kind of graduation ceremony.
“A little better than a 62-person Zoom call, but still not the graduation we had dreamt about,” she said.
Holzhueter wanted her fellow graduates to think about not only how far they’ve come, but about their futures.
“We were supposed to have three months together celebrating Senior Week and watching spring sports, graduation practice and so much more,” the salutatorian said. “But despite what we didn’t get to experience, now’s the time to look ahead. If the past three months have taught us anything, it has taught us not to take anything for granted.”
Valedictorian Christi Forman wished she could be giving her speech in front of her classmates.
“I know we were looking for a cure for senioritis, but this is also not what I had in mind,” she joked.
Forman said as elementary school students, seeing that they were the class of 2020 meant it was going to be a year to remember. And it has been, the valedictorian said, just for more reasons than they originally thought.
“It’s still our graduation year, we still put in a tremendous amount of work to get where we are today,” she said. “It just looks a little different. This pandemic was unexpected; it’s uncharted territory but there’s a lot we have learned despite of this that still stands and won’t change.”
The valedictorian said the life lessons they learned from each other, their teachers and years in the Waterloo School District will be applicable for a lifetime.
Additionally, Forman pointed out there is always someone to thank and be grateful for, even before the pandemic hit, particularly health care workers.
“Class of 2020, this is still our year. Even a pandemic can’t minimize the significance of our achievements,” she said. “We graduated; we made it through high school, but not without the help of many people along the way. So be grateful for them, thank them and continue thanking those around you.”
Following the ceremony, seniors paraded through downtown Waterloo and past the school buildings, where community members cheered for them along the route to help celebrate their accomplishments.