‘It’s so surreal’: Spokane high school seniors graduate in-person

SPOKANE, Wash. – It was a big day, and a big weekend, for the Class of 2021; they’re finally graduating high school.

Graduation is happening all weekend long with many different school districts. This year, they were able to graduate in-person. Many districts last year opted for drive-thru celebrations.

Spokane Public Schools has a total of more than 1,900 students graduating high school this year. SPS said Ferris High had 368 grads, Lewis and Clark High with 377, North Central at 281, Rogers High at 267, Shadle Park had 274, On Track Academy with 310, the Community School with 39 and the TEC at Bryant had 13 graduates.

On Saturday afternoon, Shadle Park High graduates walked across the stage and said goodbye to their high school careers, finishing it all through a pandemic.

It was a journey for all the seniors this year, being the only class to spend an entire year learning in the pandemic.

Many SPS grads were able to cap off their high school careers under the Pavilion on a beautiful day. It was a first for the district celebrating at Riverfront Park.

“It’s so surreal. I didn’t ever believe that after the crazy year we had, that we’d be able to do an in-person graduation,” said Emma Johnson, a Shadle Park High grad.

Johnson and many others were nervous the in-person graduation wouldn’t happen, possibly missing out on the rite-of-passage others had before them.

Luckily, though, it did.

“I’m glad I got the opportunity to do this because not a lot of people get this opportunity,” said Owen Burgos, a graduate. “The year we struggled with, it was just a long period of time that we had to be flexible, you know. And, everybody that is out here just deserves this chance, I feel like.”

Principal Julie Lee – who is also retiring this year after 40 years in education – was happy to see this class make this accomplishment. In the last year and a half with the pandemic, she saw her students go through many emotions, not being able to be at school often.

Lee was grateful they were able to have the in-person celebration.

“To be able to be in this space and to celebrate them in a very unique way, it just gladdens my heart, because I want them to remember this and not have their senior year overshadowed with the things that they didn’t get to experience,” she said.

It was a special send off for SPS’ senior class, as they had an unusual senior year, not even going to school full-time.

It was something both Johnson and Burgos were sad about, but they made the most of what they could.

“It was hard but being back there at all was such a blessing,” Johnson said.

Though they had in-person graduation, there were, of course, restrictions. Families were able to attend and watch their graduates walk the stage, but there were limits.

Only up to four people were allowed in, per student, if everyone was vaccinated. Grads who had families that were not vaccinated only had two tickets. Those who couldn’t make it inside the Pavilion watched from the outside, cheering on the kids.

“The past two years were just a little rough, but I think it was something you get to tell later on in life that you graduated through this time, this COVID time,” said Burgos.

Thousands of graduates across the Inland Northwest are now forging a new path, as they move onto the real world.

PHOTOS: Shadle Park High School seniors graduate at the Pavilion