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For One Whitefish Senior, In-Person Graduation Provides A Touch Of Normalcy

Whitefish High School graduates sit in evenly spaced chairs at the Majestic Valley Arena near Whitefish June 6, 2020 as classmates and faculty gave speeches and family look on from the bleachers.
Aaron Bolton
/
Montana Public Radio
Whitefish High School graduates sit in evenly spaced chairs at the Majestic Valley Arena near Whitefish June 6, 2020 as classmates and faculty gave speeches and family look on from the bleachers.

Montana’s high school graduates haven’t had a traditional end to their senior year, but some schools were able to send their students off during in-person graduation ceremonies over the past two weeks. One Whitefish student has his own take on what it meant to walk across the graduation stage.

Graduating senior Casey Schneider walked into Whitefish High School, a place he hasn’t attended in person since mid-March. You walk into the cafeteria area right when you enter, and it’s where Schneider says he got his first taste of what high school would be like.

“So here we were,” he said. “I got my first look at all the departments, and I had no idea the kind of connections I would make with people and the teachers here, and how amazing they would be.”

As Schneider walked the empty halls, he talked about what it’s been like since school shifted to online classes in a matter of two weeks. As cases of COVID-19 were found in Montana, in-person contact with his friends, classmates and teachers was basically cut off.

“So part of it is, it sucks,” Schneider said. “It’s still hitting me. Originally, it wasn’t that...I was like, 'Whatever. This is cool, I don’t have to have school.'"

"But when you add on worries about family getting sick, and you add on worries about how college is going to work, and when you add on just not being able to say goodbye to your teachers in a kinda traditional way and  have a traditional senior year, it’s a big loss for sure.”

Originally, Schneider thought he would lose out on graduation, too. He joked with his friends about hosting it virtually in an online video game. As the state opened up after weeks of shutdown and social-distancing orders, in-person graduation became a real possibility.

Schneider wanted to make his graduation ceremony, virtual or in-person, special.

“My friend Sam and I came in, and we’re MCs, 'cause we’re on student council, so we actually made a rap," he said. "We came in and filmed that, and that was really fun, and then we're introducing people and stuff like that."

But instead of playing a video, Schneider and his friend dawned neon-colored sunglasses and rapped for family and friends on stage at the Majestic Valley Arena. What followed was a pretty normal graduation ceremony with students sitting in evenly-spaced folding chairs, no masks and their families watching from the bleachers as students and faculty delivered all the usual speeches.

That’s something Schneider is really grateful for in a time when most people’s lives have been turned upside down.

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