‘Unconventional,’ yet ‘phenomenal’

Amid COVID and severe storms, Creek Class of ’20 finally gets their special day


Surrounded by love and family, graduate Chris Harrington awaits his turn to enter the Performing Arts Center and receive his diploma. Graduates and their families followed safety protocols, which included wearing masks and staying 6 feet from other groups. Photos by Lania Rocha

Surrounded by love and family, graduate Chris Harrington awaits his turn to enter the Performing Arts Center and receive his diploma. Graduates and their families followed safety protocols, which included wearing masks and staying 6 feet from other groups. Photos by Lania Rocha

SWARTZ CREEK — Even with their masks on, one could tell by their eyes that they were smiling.

The Swartz Creek High School Class of 2020 finally had their special day Sunday, July 19.

They gathered in small groups outside the Performing Arts Center, trying their best to abide by the 6-foot social distancing guidelines put in place because of the COVID- 19 pandemic.

In groups of 10, they entered the PAC where the graduates received their diplomas. About 275 of the 290-member senior class participated in the commencements which took about seven hours to complete piecemeal. District staff were on site about 10 hours. The custodial crew was busy all day, disinfecting and sanitizing all of the various areas where people could gather in groups of 100 outside.

“We had quite a bit of challenges to comply with all executive orders and the safety requirements,” said Superintendent Ben Mainka. “And, on top of that, we had thunder and lightning storms coming through.”

The Kawa family – Chad, Taylor, Amy and Caleb – prepare for the unconventional yet personalized graduation ceremony for the Swartz Creek High School Class of 2020.

The Kawa family – Chad, Taylor, Amy and Caleb – prepare for the unconventional yet personalized graduation ceremony for the Swartz Creek High School Class of 2020.

Mainka said district officials did their best to make the ceremony as close as possible to a “normal” graduation event.

“We had seen some other districts that had done some innovative and neat things,” Mainka said. “Some districts had kids driving their cars. I think everyone is doing the best they can right now. We wanted to do something where the kids could actually walk across the stage, be certified and do something with their classmates one last time, because they missed out on so much. It was a special day for that class. I think the parents were just thankful we were trying to do something positive. They were very helpful in complying with all the requirements we are under.”

He offered kudos to the high school staff, whom he called “the unsung heroes who worked tirelessly to decorate and make it a special day, and find a way to celebrate these kids one more time.”

Graduate Alex Cross said she was pleased with the ceremony.

“An amazing graduation considering the situation,” Cross said. “It was very well run and more personal than a regular graduation would have been. Overall, it gave me the closure I needed after this crazy year of cancelations. Made me very proud to be a Dragon.”

Parents also were impressed. They expressed appreciation for the way in which the ceremony was personalized for each graduate, and for all of the hard work the staff put into making it all happen.

“We’re thankful they were able to have a ceremony given the current pandemic situation,” said Amy Kawa. “Each student was given their special moment on stage, even if it seemed to go quickly. The school accommodated each senior the best that they could. This made for a tremendously long day for the staff and we appreciate all of their efforts.”

“It was very well organized and truly a group effort,” said Jennifer Hect-Kelly. “They added ‘extras’ like Swartz Creek masks and backdrops for pictures, both inside and out. Although not the traditional ceremony most of us experienced in the past, it was still memorable in its own right. I think the kids each enjoyed the acknowledgment and their individualized moment. Well done, Swartz Creek.”

Rachelle Derscha said the staff and administration did a great job putting together an “unconventional graduation celebration.”

“The time and effort they put into details definitely showed,” she said.

Mistie Stevens also was impressed with all the work that went into planning and carrying out the ceremony.

“Once again, Creek makes us proud to be Dragons,” Stevens said.

“It was amazing,” said Stacey Bailey. “The best social distancing process ever. We got to watch our son walk across the stage, get his diploma and give and receive arm bumps. We then walked outside to the tent where they rang the bell, he stood and flipped his tassel. I couldn’t be more proud – proud of my son and proud of our school staff.”

Laurie Moreland Graves described the day’s events as “phenomenal, very creative and personal.”

“All staff who worked on the graduation are to be commended,” she said. “It was run so well you’d think they’d been doing it this way for years. It was a long, long day for them. I hope they know how grateful we, the parents of the grads, are.”