Eastern Carver County Schools staff came to Grace Church with measuring tapes.
The traditional Chaska and Chanhassen High School graduation site can accommodate up to 4,200 people — 10 times the amount of graduating seniors. But just a few weeks ago, staff were spread across the sanctuary, trying to figure out how many visitors could fit while still staying six feet apart, said District Communications Director Celi Haga.
“After a lot of planning and finagling, we got it down to one big ceremony and two tickets per student. And the very next day, those restrictions were lifted,” said District 112 Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams.
Now, no ticket limits, no social distancing, no capacity restrictions: the only difference from a pre-pandemic graduation is that masks will still be required.
Graduation ceremonies were one of the largest events to be canceled in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions last year, and local schools were planning on more restrictions that would limit another full-scale celebration in 2021.
But with the sudden announcement of Gov. Tim Walz’s capacity restrictions for indoor and outdoor events ending by May 28, all planning had to pivot quickly for District 112’s June 11 graduation, which had previously planned for a smaller scale celebration.
Last year, 2020 seniors could still walk across the stage and receive their diploma, but in a nearly empty room with just their family watching. The district began discussing 2021 graduation plans in January, and while details have continued to evolve, the goal was the same: provide a graduation as normal as possible, Sayles-Adams said.
“A big rite of passage in education is a high school graduation, and virtual can sometimes be impersonal. Now that things are opening up, we have the opportunity to provide that traditional cap and gown, walk across the stage and celebrate their accomplishments. That’s more personal, and more memorable,” she said.
If students aren’t comfortable attending graduation, their names will still be read at the in-person ceremony and their diploma will most likely be personally delivered by staff.
Other senior staples are also a go. District 112 planned an official prom for both Chaska and Chanhassen students in May, and a senior party for Chanhassen seniors is currently scheduled for after the ceremony on June 11, organized by parents.
And one of last year’s alternate celebrations may become a new tradition: a parking lot celebration, where teachers line up and cheer for graduating seniors driving through, will happen again this year, Haga said.
“Our students and families and staff have been very resilient this year. This is something they’re remember for the rest of their lives: living through learning, teaching and working through a pandemic,” Sayles-Adams said. “Now, we can return to some sense of normalcy.”