Cove High School graduates toss their caps

While onlookers at Cove High School’s graduation May 30, 2020, hold to social distancing measures, seniors hold to the tradition of tossing their caps into the air. Graduations for the class of 2021 will look more traditional as the coronavirus pandemic ebbs.

UNION COUNTY — The poll results surprised La Grande High School Principal Brett Baxter.

The school surveyed seniors about what type of graduation ceremony they would like. The vast majority indicated they wanted a traditional one in their gym, Baxter said.

The students’ wishes will be granted June 5 at at 10 a.m. when a traditional graduation ceremony will start in the LHS gym. The commencement ceremony will be possible because of Union County’s falling COVID-19 infection rates, which now has the county in the lower risk category, meaning small crowds can gather indoors.

Holding a commencement ceremony a year ago in a gym was off limits. Union County had a higher infection rate and like other counties was operating under more stringent state COVID-19 safety restrictions. This forced all Union County high schools to conduct vehicle-centric graduation ceremonies. La Grande High held a drive-thru commencement where students received their diplomas in vehicles with their families in a pageantry-filled atmosphere.

Baxter said the drive-thru graduation went so well he anticipated many of this year’s seniors would request a similar one.

“I totally expected it,” Baxter said.

Instead, the school’s seniors opted for tradition. One reason may be their desire to be in one place at the same time. Baxter said some seniors noted they have never all been together at any point of the 2020-21 school year.

About 150 students will be graduating, and each will be allotted five tickets they can give to family and friends. Only those with tickets can attend.

Cove, Elgin, Imbler, Powder Valley and Union high schools also will have more traditional graduation ceremonies this spring.

Elgin High School kicks off public school commencement activities in Union County with a graduation ceremony May 26. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m. on Elgin High’s football field. About 30 students will receive diplomas at the ceremony.

Imbler High School’s graduation will follow on May 28. IHS’s commencement will start at 5 p.m. in the school gym. The number of people who can be in the gym, which has a capacity of 875, will be limited to 200, said Principal Mike Mills. Imbler’s 20 graduating seniors each will receive 10 tickets they can give to family and friends for admission to the ceremony.

Next on the commencement docket is Cove High School’s graduation, set to start at 11 a.m. May 29 on the school’s football field. Everything about the ceremony will be traditional except its outdoor setting. A year ago seniors attended graduation in vehicles at Cove High’s football field and received diplomas after stepping outside.

Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit said this year’s more traditional graduation will continue a trend toward normalcy in his district.

“This is reflecting that,” Pettit said. “I am pretty excited.”

The final day for Union County public high school graduations will be June 5 when Powder Valley, Union and La Grande high schools conduct commencement exercises.

Union High School’s graduation will start at 10 a.m. at the football field of its athletic complex. Carter Wells, Union’s school district superintendent, said renovation work in the school gym is forcing the event outdoors. But there will be tents to protect those attending if there is rain, he said.

Powder Valley High School’s graduation starts at 1 p.m. in its old gym. The school a year ago conducted commencement at the La Grande Drive-In, where students in vehicles with their families viewed recorded presentations. Students later received their diplomas in Powder Valley School’s new gym in individual ceremonies with family members.

North Powder School District Superintendent Lance Dixon said this year’s ceremony will be much simpler because it will all be in one place on the same day. Dixon said he is delighted this year’s graduation will be more traditional.

“I’m ecstatic to get back to some normalcy,” Dixon said.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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