Homer High School to provide drive-through graduation

The public is invited to a procession through town following the ceremony

Seniors preparing to graduate Homer High School in less than two weeks will still get to cross a stage to receive their diplomas — there just won’t be anyone there to hand it to them.

In the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Homer High School is providing an outdoor, drive-through graduation ceremony for the class of 2020.

“It’s going to be kind of a drive-in theatre,” said Principal Doug Waclawski.

Homer High’s graduation is set for 7 p.m. Monday, May 18.

The school plans to put the stage around the flag poles in front of the school building. Graduates, along with their family members, will drive up to the stage one by one in vehicles. The graduates will exit the vehicles, walk across the stage and grab their diploma, which will be placed on a table by a staff member who will then need to back at least 6 feet away.

The event will be streamed live on either the high school’s Facebook page or YouTube channel, Waclawski said. KBBI Public Radio will also broadcast the ceremony, he said. There will also be drone footage of the event.

Waclawski said the actual ceremony is not for the public, just graduates and their family members. To adhere to social distancing mandates from the state, the school will have to keep vehicles spaced out in the parking lot, and there’s just not enough room to accommodate the public, Waclawski said.

The public is invited to cheer the graduates on during a procession down Pioneer Avenue that will take place after the graduation ceremony is over — probably around 8-8:30 p.m., Waclawski said.

Students and staff will still be giving speeches like they normally do, and graduates will have their photos taken by a professional photographer as they exit the stage. From there, they will hop back into their vehicles to make room for the next graduate.

Waclawski said the school will be strictly adhering to social distancing mandates. Setting down the diplomas, rather than handing them to graduates, is an example of that.

“We can’t fist bump them or shake their hands,” he said. “Which is kind of sad.”

Waclawski said a group of about 20 students, parents and staff participated in planning this alternative graduation. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has to sign off on any school graduation or event plans.

“Basically the whole point is we don’t want anyone to be at risk of someone catching COVID-19 because of something that we do,” Waclawski said.

Many graduates view the day they walk across the high school stage and turn the tassels on their caps as one of the most memorable days of their lives. While in-person school has been impossible since Spring Break and traditional gradation ceremonies are canceled, Waclawski said he thinks, in a way, this alternative graduation will be even more memorable for the class of 2020.

“I think at the end of the day, we’re going to have a really good ceremony,” he said.

Making the transition to distance learning was not easy for Homer High School students, including the seniors.

“It’s definitely been hard for them,” Waclawski said. “I mean, there’s no doubt about that.”

Waclawski said he’s been impressed with just how resilient the seniors have been in navigating their final days of education during the pandemic.

“I’m very impressed with the transition they made,” he said.

In addition to the ceremony and the subsequent procession, graduates of the entire Homer area will be honored by the city as well. Mike Illg is recreation manager for the city, and also sits on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board. He said the city is working on designing three to four banners honoring all graduates of the Homer area, which will be hung on light poles around town.

“This could be a tradition,” Illg said, noting that the city is making the banners so that they can be used again in the future.

Funding for the banners will be taken from either the parks and recreation budget or the community recreation budget, Illg said. This is a long-term purchase, and the city wants to use the banners again going forward to honor graduating seniors, he said.

“We are about our kids, and we want to make it special,” Illg said.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.