Even though the coronavirus pandemic robbed seniors of many of their "lasts" — last season of spring sports, last dances, last lunch in the cafeteria — they were able to have graduation ceremonies that celebrated their achievements.

Small schools like Carlton and Moose Lake were able to celebrate graduation close to the traditional way by moving the stage outside and having the students stay in their vehicles with their family until it was their turn. Once they left their vehicles, they were reminded to maintain social distance.

Senior Taylor Erickson was one of 44 students in the Carlton High School class of 2020. She said she was excited they were still able to walk across the stage.

“I’ve looked forward to it my entire high school career,” Erickson said. “It was nothing but perfect.”

Matthew Santkuyl, Carlton High School senior student speaker addresses the class of 2020 and their families at an outdoor graduation ceremony Friday, May 22. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal
Matthew Santkuyl, Carlton High School senior student speaker addresses the class of 2020 and their families at an outdoor graduation ceremony Friday, May 22. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

Current Moose Lake School principal and soon to be superintendent, Billie Jo Steen said the school held a parade for seniors on Friday, May 22 and individual diploma ceremonies on Sunday, May 24.

Steen said the podium was on a separate stage and the school's 35 graduates picked up their diplomas from a table on the stage. Graduation is one of her favorite school traditions.

“As a principal, one of my greatest joys is getting to connect with the kids on graduation day,” Steen said. “They look up at me as they wait for me to call their name, and we get to make eye contact and exchange a smile before they come on stage.”

The ceremony took on an even more special meeting for Steen, as her oldest child, Emma, graduated.

Incoming Moose Lake School District Superintendent, Billie Jo Steen hugs her daughter, Emma Steen, as outgoing superintendent looks on. Moose Lake class of 2020 had their graduation commencement outside in front of the school. Students were called up one at a time and family stood outside at a distance watching their senior receive their diploma. When each was done, they left and the process was repeated. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal
Incoming Moose Lake School District Superintendent, Billie Jo Steen hugs her daughter, Emma Steen, as outgoing superintendent looks on. Moose Lake class of 2020 had their graduation commencement outside in front of the school. Students were called up one at a time and family stood outside at a distance watching their senior receive their diploma. When each was done, they left and the process was repeated. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

“It was a very emotional spring for this momma," Steen said.

Emma missed being with her entire class, but Steen said she thought the Moose Lake ceremony was nice and gave some sense of closure to an odd spring trimester.

Cloquet graduating seniors had a different experience. With almost 200 students in the class, the staff opted to have the students set up appointments to receive their diplomas on the high school stage Tuesday, May 12 and Wednesday, May 13. Then they were taken behind the curtain and had a photo taken of each student tossing their hat to the side.

A video was compiled of the students walking across the stage and tossing their hats. It looked like the students were tossing their hats to each other. Speeches were also videotaped in advance.

Kelly Sandy's youngest son, Luke, graduated from Cloquet High School. While it deviated from the traditional commencement ceremony, Sandy said she is thankful for everything the school staff has done since schools were ordered to close, including the graduation ceremony.

While Luke left home before the school held their drive-in theater style graduation Friday, May 22, Sandy said she watched the video Tuesday, May 26.

“I watched every minute of it,” Sandy said. “It didn't hit me until I watched the video.”

Autumn Moynan poses for a photo by a family member after receiving her diploma Wednesday, May 13. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal
Autumn Moynan poses for a photo by a family member after receiving her diploma Wednesday, May 13. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

Sarah Ellena saw her oldest child, Emmie, walk across the stage by herself in an almost empty theater. While she said she still felt a little sad, she is still thankful that the school staff were able to find a solution.

“We’ve looked forward to so much for so long,” Ellena said. “It was amazing to sit next to my daughter in the car and watch the video, but I hope not to experience it again.”

She said she is also thankful that Emmie's CEC hockey team was able to compete at state before everything was canceled.

“I am grateful for those little moments,” Ellena said.