SCHS grads finally walk the stage

Pared-down ceremony moved out to football field
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

More than 120 Shawano Community High School graduates walked across the stage Aug. 7 to get their diplomas.

In a summer where graduations have gone virtual or been canceled entirely, SCHS officials waited until almost the last minute to decide whether to give members of the Class of 2020 the opportunity to have an actual graduation ceremony.

“We decided to push it off into August to see if COVID had slowed down,” said Scott Zwirschitz, SCHS principal. “It really hasn’t, but we felt, with the safety precautions we put in place, we thought we could work it out.”

The Shawano graduation didn’t have all of the usual bells and whistles. Instead of the usual speeches including the valedictorian addresses, there was only a brief speech by Zwirschitz. There were no live music performances from the band, choir or orchestra, with the school opting to play recordings of “Pomp and Circumstance” and the Star Wars’ “Throne Room March” soundtrack.

The ceremony, moved from the school’s gymnasium to the football field, had the graduates sitting six feet apart from left to right and front to back. A limited number of family members got to watch from the sides and the field’s bleachers.

“Everybody honored and recognized the social distancing,” Zwirschitz said after the ceremony. “It’s about everybody being responsible, and I think everybody has been.”

Not all of the graduates were able to make the ceremony. Zwirschitz noted that several had already started their tours in the military, while others had already left for college. There were also some foreign exchange students in the class who had already returned to their home countries.

“As most of you know, this has been a very difficult five months for these seniors, and we had difficult times trying to get everything in for this group,” Zwirschitz said to the crowd. “Tonight, we get to be out here on a perfect evening celebrating the Class of 2020.”

Zwirschitz asked the crowd to stand and applaud.

“I believe it is only fair that with what this group had endured that they’ve earned a standing ovation,” he said.

Zwirschitz said the class’s student council officers served as his sounding board as he tried to figure out whether holding an in-person graduation would be safe. Coronavirus cases have been increasing at an accelerated rate, with Shawano County crossing the 200 threshold in positive cases last week.

“(The officers) helped me organize the cap and gown handout, the diploma handout, the video that was shown and also the senior video,” Zwirschitz said. “They helped me along the way, and they also helped me make the decision to host this tonight. I think we made a perfect choice.”

SCHS had also held a virtual graduation ceremony May 31, similar to what high schools in Bonduel and Marion held.

Zwirschitz admitted he didn’t give out as much information about graduation as parents and grandparents had been hoping for out of fear that the information would have to change or be retracted due to evolving conditions during the pandemic.

“I kept my cards close to my chest until I was positive we were able to do certain things,” Zwirschitz said, “and this ceremony is another example.”

Zwirschitz noted that, because of the coronavirus and the school still being mostly closed, there was no rehearsal for the ceremony like there would have been in a regular year. The ceremony went off with few hitches, one of them being a breeze blowing the Wisconsin state flag in a graduate’s face as he traversed the stage.

Despite paring down the ceremony to its basic essentials, Zwirschitz took a moment to wish the graduates well.

“You have gone through more than any class has gone through,” Zwirschitz said. “It’s been tough. We’ve endured, and we’re here tonight to celebrate. I want to congratulate you, and I look forward to seeing what you accomplish in the future.”