OTTUMWA — Ottumwa seniors now have a graduation ceremony set.

A drive-up graduation will be held in front of the Ottumwa High School steps May 23-24.

Seniors and their immediate family will arrive in alphabetical order. Seniors will get out of the car, walk onto the stage, receive their diploma and get a photo taken. They will then return to the car and pull away, allowing for the next graduate to take their turn.

“I know it’s not, as some would say, classy, but it would be functional so at least kids have an opportunity to have something in May,” said Superintendent Nicole Kooiker.

It’s a plan that evolved several times since Friday.

The plan issued Friday afternoon with the board agenda called for graduates to arrive at Schafer and be able to walk with their parents. By Monday’s board meeting, the plan had been revised to a similar one-day drive-up ceremony at Bridge View Center.

Board President David Weilbrenner questioned the necessity of utilizing Bridge View Center for the backdrop of the ceremony if no large crowds were gathering. “It would probably be more memorable to have something at Schafer or even the front steps of the high school. That means more,” he said.

He also had concerns about the date. “I understand graduation the 24th. Everybody had that penciled in a year ago. I understand the 24th is a magical date in a lot of people’s minds and I know we have a lot of kids potentially leaving the town, and maybe the state. I get having a graduation-type ceremony of some sort would be beneficial. If we do that the 24th, if we can never do something else, is that what this is going to accomplish?”

Board member Morgan Brown expressed similar concerns. He said the senior survey overwhelmingly indicated the desire for a traditional ceremony and was concerned over plans for a ceremony that didn’t match that desire.

“The only reason we’re coming up with a revised plan is because we’re worried that can’t happen and what does that look like for seniors if there isn’t anything that can happen and we don’t do something in May to recognize them,” said Kooiker.

She stressed the district is still hoping to have a more traditional, face-to-face ceremony later in the summer but realizes that may not be a possibility due to restriction put in place due to COVID-19.

“We’re fearful if we can’t have an actual ceremony, the later it gets into the summer, what happens with some of those students and how do we organize getting them a picture in their cap and gown getting their diploma?” she asked. “The longer it gets into the summer, the more the high school administration is worried that kids will be gone and moving on to the next stage in their lives. At least there will be something this way.”

Board member Nancy Manson had concerns over trying to fit all seniors into a one-day timeframe. The proposal estimated 40 graduates an hour, allowing about 1.5 minutes for each graduate to get out of the car, walk the stage, receive their diploma cover and get photos taken and exit.

“If you get somebody that runs behind a little bit, then are you a little bit concerned that your whole time could be thrown off?” she asked.

Kooker agreed it would be a full day. It’s also why she said the graduates would only be receiving the diploma covers with the official diplomas being mailed to the students.

“You’re right. It’s a long process, but it gives some face-to-face type of a thing,” she said.

Board member Brian Jones proposed making the ceremony a two-day event to provide cushion in case things fall behind.

The motion to have the drive-thru graduation May 23-24 at the OHS steps, while providing reasonable precautions to follow state guidelines, was passed unanimously by the board. The district estimates the process will last five hours each day and are hoping to live stream it. The district will also keep backup dates of July 12 and Aug. 9 for an in-person ceremony at Schafer Stadium is social distancing guidelines have been removed. The board will continue to revisit that in the future.

“I think right now, this might be the best option,” said Jeremy Weller, board vice president. “Let’s schedule something down the road and hope for the best.

“I think at the end of the day this is just something,” said Weller of the drive-thru ceremony. “It’s not ideal, it’s not what any of us want to do, but the sad reality is this may be the only opportunity for some of our graduates to have any kind of graduation ceremony.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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