For a unique group, it’s a unique ending

Parade set after 45 seniors at Ely Memorial High School graduate Saturday

by Tom Coombe
Who could have ever predicted this?
A school year that started in Ely like any other has ended amid a worldwide pandemic that has kept students away from campus for more than two months.
The members of the Ely Memorial High School Class of 2020 will reconvene on campus tonight, with undeniably the most unconventional commencement in school history.
Instead of walking across the stage at Washington Auditorium, each of Ely’s 45 seniors will walk alone across a temporary platform in the arena parking lot, picking up the diploma that certifies their graduation.
The drive-up graduation is the best school officials can do, given the circumstances and statewide restrictions on mass gatherings.
Principal Megan Anderson acknowledged this week that “even graduation itself is a tough adjustment, and we’re trying to make the best out of a crummy situation.”
The graduation event, which will be broadcast on local radio station WELY, begins at 7 p.m. and will be much shorter than usual.
Anderson will give the commencement address and announce each graduate, who will sit in separate vehicles in reserved spaces in the parking lot.
After the ceremony, the graduates will take part in a parade that will travel down Harvey Street to Highway 1, up to Sheridan Street and west to the edge of town.
Community members are invited to line the streets in their vehicles and recognize the graduates.
While not a traditional graduation, Anderson said the event is designed in part to meet the wishes of Ely’s seniors.
“They’re pretty bummed out,” she said. “They’re wishing they could be doing all of the things they’re not able to do. In talking with them about graduation, they really wanted to be together, even if it’s this weird way in their cars. It’s a way to have some closure as a class. This is us. Here we are all together in the same area.”
Anderson said the Class of 2020 will go down in history for what they’ve missed.
“It’s been unreal, it really has,” said Anderson. “You think about the best case scenario and how things would be going and this pandemic has changed everything. Those senior moments, those things you only experience once, they have missed, not being able to do their prom or their senior sports seasons.”
Despite the circumstances surrounding the end of their senior year, the Class of 2020 made its mark during its 13-year run through Ely’s educational system, achieving in a wide assortment of ways.
“They’re a fun, good natured bunch of kids,” said Anderson. “It’s been fun to watch them grow academically, athletically they’ve had some pretty outstanding seasons and teams to be a part of. It was fun to see so many of them be leaders in our school building, as mentors for our sixth and seventh graders. They have leadership qualities.”
Though small in size, the group doesn’t have to take a back seat to larger groups that have come before them, particularly when it comes to academics.
Two seniors - Apolonia Homer and Nate Nettifee - were named winners of the prestigious Alworth Scholarships, valued at $20,000 each.
That makes six Alworth winners from Ely in the last two years, quite a mark for a relatively small high school.
More than a third of the class - some 16 members in all - have the acclaim of being an honor student. That distinction requires a grade point average of 3.5 or above.
They are Homer, Nettifee, Ana Bercher, Ethan Bremner, Kalyssa Eilrich, Dylan Fenske, Sarah Isbell, Isabelle Kelley, Henry Matthys, Erika Mattson, Jenna Merhar, Luke Olson, Raif Olson, Brooke Pasmick, Winter Sainio, and James Schwinghamer,
The honor students were part of a group that collected over $180,000 in scholarships earlier this month at the school’s awards day. More than 90 awards were distributed during a ceremony that was held virtually this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic has also scrapped plans for the annual all-night graduation party, which has taken place every year since the late-1980s.
Organizers are nonetheless moving forward with prize giveaways which are annually a major component of the event.