Celebrating from a distance

Senior drives and veterans parade replace large gatherings for 2020
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

OCONTO FALLS — There was no high school graduation ceremony, no community festival or parade for Memorial Day 2020 in Oconto Falls, as there usually would be, but the community found ways to celebrate the unofficial first weekend of summer anyway.

A “senior drive” Sunday afternoon down Main Street had a parade-like atmosphere, with hundreds of friends and family lining Main Street standing and in lawn chairs, occasionally scrambling to grab candy tossed toward them from the passing vehicles.

On Monday morning, a line of vehicles drove past a small group of veterans gathered at the new Oconto Falls Area Veterans Monument in a Memorial Day parade, waving and saluting them from a distance.

The drives were organized as an alternative to a commencement ceremony at the high school, which is closed until June 30 under an executive order Gov. Tony Evers issued March 12 and later extended. That decision was not affected by the state Supreme Court ruling that the Evers administration improperly tried to extend his March 16 “Safer at Home” order without legislative approval. Officials have also encouraged gatherings be limited to 10 or fewer people.

Seniors gathered at Memorial Field after the drive for group photos in their caps and gowns.

The school district has not given up on the idea of an in-person commencement sometime this summer, Superintendent Dean Hess said during the Oconto Falls School Board’s May 11 meeting, which was held online using Zoom videoconferencing technology. The board will discuss possibly setting a date at its next meeting, currently scheduled for June 8.

In the meantime, the school is developing a series of videos representing “virtual” graduation speeches and scholarships and awards presentations. Principal Jake Beschta said the award videos can be viewed anytime by going to the district website, ofpanthers.com, going to the high school page and clicking on the three links under the headline “Honoring 2020 Seniors” or on the Oconto Falls High School Facebook page.

Still to come is the virtual presentation of diplomas. Beschta clarified that the presentation is not live, but a Google website that will have many pre-produced components.

“I want to keep some of them a surprise, but I can tell you there are seven to eight different elements of that presentation alone that have approximately 40 people contributing in different capacities,” Beschta said.

The presentation is scheduled to be released June 3.

Social media has been the option of choice for the Lena, Gillett and Suring school districts, which have been spotlighting the seniors with individual profiles in the weeks leading up to their original graduation dates.

Suring held a similar senior drive Saturday afternoon, May 23, down the village’s Main Street, and a group of parents in Gillett, which would have held its graduation this Sunday, is organizing a senior parade at 2 p.m. Sunday using the July 4 route through downtown beginning and ending at the sports complex.