Virtual ceremony brings grads together — in spirit

Marion eager to honor students now instead of waiting for uncertain future
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

MARION — There is no second take in a traditional graduation ceremony.

Once the graduates march down the aisle, whatever happens next is there forever — stumbling on the stairs, forgetting to turn the tassel, skipping a section of the valedictory speech.

Marion High School graduates aren’t going to have to worry about that happening as they go through the school’s first virtual graduation, a necessity due to schools being closed through June 30 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The school is one of two in the area — the other being Bonduel — that plans to have a virtual graduation on May 22, the same night it had planned its original graduation.

School officials in Marion spent much of the last week bringing in graduates one at a time to get into their caps and gowns and have a professional photo taken. The individual photos, being taken by North Woods Studio in Bowler, are being made into a composite group photo, as the coronavirus pandemic kept the school from getting a traditional group shot.

Then the grads, 25 in all, walked across the high school stage where they received their diplomas and moved their tassels from right to left. With a few family members watching from the gym floor, the grads then went for family photos. Principal Dan Breitrick said the graduates would also be receiving any athletic and academic honors during their visit to the school.

“It’s almost like we’re going through stations,” Breitrick said.

However, if the grads forgot to move the tassel or anything else, there’s a chance to go back and do it again.

All the joy will be woven together into a video, which will debut on graduation night at The ceremony begins at 7 p.m.

Breitrick said the school district felt it was important to do something to honor the students now instead of waiting for later in the summer, when some students might already be moving on to college or other things.

“We really want to honor the students while they’re here,” Breitrick said. “Talking in our admin team, we thought, ‘Why kick the can down the road? Let’s honor them on the day they were going to be honored.’”

It has been tradition for Marion to hold its graduation the Friday before Memorial Day, and doing the virtual ceremony allows families who would have expected relatives coming from out of town to still come and celebrate at home at their own discretion, according to Breitrick.

“The majority of the families have their parties on Saturday or Sunday or even Monday, but this still gives them the opportunity to do this,” he said.

There were very few snags as the school ushered in families one at a time for filming and fun last week, according to Marion School District Superintendent James Bena. The high school tried to accommodate families that might be working during the day with some evening times, and vice versa.

While the virtual ceremony comes close to honoring Marion’s graduates, it’s not quite the same as the traditional event schools have enjoyed for decades, in Bena’s view.

“They are two different, unique situations,” Bena said. “Certainly, nothing can replicate the feeling of having most of the community in a packed field house, but at the same time, we’re doing everything to try to replicate the prestige and the respect that comes along with a graduation ceremony.”

Kyla Zillmer, Marion’s valedictorian, enjoyed the opportunity to at least get her diploma, but she agreed that the virtual ceremony did not fulfill what she imagined the big day would be like.

“We’ve been dreaming of this day for 13 years, but I guess the school made the best out of this situation. They did the best they could,” Zillmer said.

Zillmer’s address will also be part of the ceremony, the same as it would have been in a traditional graduation. She said her speech entails how hard it has been — not just with the pandemic, but all through their K-12 education — as well as sharing some of the happy memories along the path to learning.

“It’s been hard not seeing them for so long and then having to say our farewells without seeing each other,” Zillmer said.

The school is still considering having an activity in the summer like a cookout where graduates and their families could come together for a formal farewell, as long as health regulations permit.