Celebrating Class of 2020 Graduates During the Pandemic


Class of 2020 may not move their tassels and throw their mortarboards in the air together, but Oregon schools still celebrate their accomplishments.

OREGON – For most schools, graduation planning began many months ago. Seniors were looking forward to activities that would make their final year memorable, including commencement. All of that went out the window when a deadly pandemic of COVID-19 swept the globe.

Schools around the state are now working to keep commencement traditions alive and still keep graduates safe. They’re reimagining group ceremonies and working with parents to come up with creative ways to honor achievements. Here are a few inspiring ways schools are celebrating and giving seniors the recognition they deserve.

South Salem High School has invited their graduating seniors to paint a 6×6 inch ceramic tile the way they would’ve decorated the top of their mortarboard (graduation cap). The tiles will be used to create a mural that symbolizes the iconic moment when seniors toss their graduation caps into the air.

West Linn-Wilsonville School District is honoring seniors with yard signs and will hold drive-through commencement ceremonies. At the ceremony, students will wait in their car until it’s their turn to walk across the outdoor stage to get their diploma. Family and friends can watch via live-stream.

Tillamook High School is holding a drive-in commencement at the Tillamook County Fairgrounds. Cars will park six-feet apart to view the event on a large screen. Graduates will use social distancing at the ceremony and a community parade, led by local law enforcement, will follow.  

The Bend-La Pine School District is featuring photos of seniors on five billboards throughout the city. “We wanted to do something bold and highly visible to recognize the more than 1,200 seniors who are graduating from our high schools this June,” said Shay Mikalson, Bend-La Pine Schools superintendent according to the district website. “When the opportunity arose to congratulate each high school’s graduating class on a 24-foot wide billboard, we knew we wanted to do it.”

Newport High School is honoring seniors by lighting up their school stadium every Wednesday as part of #bethelightOR. They’re also recognizing seniors through social media postings, drive-by events, car decorating, a video compilation, and personalized yard signs. The Instagram video below shows how the school staff prepared to deliver personalized yard signs to seniors.

Lincoln City Glass Center brightened the day of 418 high school seniors by donating glass float graduation gifts.

Kelly Howard, who owns Lincoln City Glass Center, builds a glass floats stockpile for the busy summer season. In the wake of COVID-19, she donated a four-inch glass float – which retails for $35 at her store – to each graduate.

“I feel so bad for the kids having their senior year end this way,” Howard told the Oregonian. “This is a small gift that lets them know we’re thinking about them. Just doing something positive.”

It didn’t end there. Before long, Howard was donating glass floats to 2020 graduates at Lincoln County’s seven high schools: Taft, Eddyville, Siletz, Newport, Waldport, Toledo, and Career Tech.

Higher Education: Commencement During COVID

Drive-through events and special social media filters are just a few of the creative ways Oregon’s public colleges and universities are planning commencement and celebrating the achievements of their graduates given the restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Graduates of Blue Mountain Community College will take part in a Parade of Graduates, driving with family in their personal vehicles around the campus, with BMCC faculty and staff, as well as extended family, friends and community members lining the roadway to cheer and celebrate. Graduates will receive an official photograph in their vehicle, and a gift bag with their tassel, diploma cover, and more. The event will be live broadcast on two local radio stations, and live-streamed on social media.

At Clackamas Community College’s drive-through graduation, graduates will first celebrate in their vehicles, and then proceed to a stage (practicing social distancing) where they will have their names announced, receive their diploma covers, and turn their tassels from right to left. 

In Umpqua Community Colleges’ car parade commencement ceremony, students will wear their caps and gown, and are being encouraged to decorate their vehicles. The ceremony will be live-streamed and radio broadcasted for families and friends to celebrate virtually.  

Southern Oregon University is planting more than 1,000 signs on campus – one devoted to each graduate.  

Tillamook Bay Community College‘s President is traveling to each graduate’s home with a gift bag, yard sign proclaiming them a graduate, diploma cover, tassel, and an Alumni gift.  

Portland Community College graduates are receiving personalized “PCC Class of 2020” Snapchat and Instagram photo filters.

Nothing can diminish the achievement of the class of 2020. Though graduating seniors may not be marking the milestone in the way they’d planned, Oregon is proud of them and their achievements.

About Author

Endi Hartigan is the Communications Director for the State of Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC). The HECC envisions a future in which all Oregonians—and especially those whom our systems have underserved and marginalized—benefit from the transformational power of high-quality postsecondary education and training. Amy Velez is an Operations & Policy Analyst with Oregon's Department of Administrative Services.

Comments are closed.