Elijah Gurney and Garrett Kersavage celebrate their commencement. photo by Charlie Kanzig
Elijah Gurney and Garrett Kersavage celebrate their commencement. photo by Charlie Kanzig
Donning a black cowboy hat, Sisters High School principal Joe Hosang welcomed the crowd celebrating the class of 2020 at the rodeo grounds Friday, June 12 saying, “We’re doing this rodeo style!”

With the COVID-19 pandemic altering normal life throughout the world, commencement planners including Lynne Fendall, Jillian Frankl and Melanie Petterson got to work weeks ago to find a way to honor the class of 2020, culminating with a drive-in ceremony on the east side of the rodeo grounds, complete with horses, a jumbo video screen and a mountain backdrop.

The audio of the ceremony was broadcast through KNLX 104.9 FM.

Health considerations required graduates and their families to remain inside their vehicles for the duration of the event, so ex-Marine Hosang gave instructions to “sit at attention” just before a pair of rodeo princesses presented the American flag, and an Outlaw flag, as a video recording featuring members of the SHS jazz choir singing the national anthem played.

Creating the music video when the jazz choir could not meet together required the singers to record themselves on their own to the accompaniment provided by teacher Julie Cash and the direction of choir instructor Rick Johnson. Another student, Ian Cash, and his father Brian, then pulled it all together.

Before fully getting underway with the ceremony, Hosang shared special thanks to a number of people and organizations, including the Sisters Rodeo Association for the use of the facility and providing volunteers to make the event happen.

“This has been a huge community effort, which is why I love being part of the Sisters community,” he said.

Hosang also recognized three high school staff members who are leaving the district this year, including teacher Andy Scheele, who will be working at the school in Warm Springs, teacher Leah Soloff, who is moving to Chicago to be closer to her son, and para-professional Rongi Yost, who is retiring.

Applause was replaced with horn blasts.

Rather than giving separate speeches, seven valedictorians — Lola Green, Lydia Bartlett, Olivia Hougham, Joelle Asson, Kate Bowen, Maddison Anderson, and Evan Martinez — collaborated on a video message that included some “lessons” they learned during their school years, including how attitude matters in the face of adversity.

One said, “In the blink of an eye the last of our senior year was taken from us and we all had to process the frustration and sadness in our own way and in our own time, but from this we have grown in new ways.”

Another added, “It is important to recognize that we are never truly alone...now is the time to place the common good ahead of our personal desires by working together.”

“We are all responsible for the future...we can decide to live carelessly or we can decide to live with the intention to exceed who we were yesterday. Let’s go out into the world and choose to care.”

Following the theme of never being truly alone, seniors Brianna Bachmeier, Chloe Gold, Sierra Henneous, Bryanna Marlatt, and Victoria Shelswell-White were featured in a pre-recorded video version of the song “Stand by Me.” Like the national anthem, producing the video required special effort. Expertise from local videographer Sam Pyke and music mixing by band teacher Tyler Cranor made it possible.

The Sisters High School tradition of having graduates present a flower of thanks to a significant adult led seniors to exit their cars momentarily to fetch the roses set outside and make delivery. Sisters Floral generously donated flowers to each senior as well.

Another tradition, a musical slideshow of graduates “then and now” featuring baby pictures contrasted with senior portraits, was the final piece before Hosang began calling the graduates to go forward from their cars to receive their diplomas.

Just as the first senior drew to the stage, the wind died and the sun peeked through in the west, a bit of a gift and perhaps a symbol of hope to the class of 2020 after a challenging year.