No graduation ceremony. No problem.
Though the 2020 graduating class of Winfield High School was looking forward to walking on the stage to receive their diplomas on Sunday, the novel coronavirus had other ideas.
Out of sadness came resourcefulness, however. Instead of walking across the stage of the high school, the city’s kindergarten and high school grads participated in a parade through Winfield.
“At first, I was a little bummed over the uncertainty (of holding the commencement ceremony), but when we went through town during the parade, all of the memories of high school came rushing through,” said senior Jake Colbert, who signed a letter of intent to play college football at Illinois College about an hour after the parade. “I’ll never forget it.”
Early morning storms turned into a light drizzle just in time for the parade, as hundreds of people lined the streets of Winfield to watch the students drive by in celebration of the end of a long journey, which ended in the parking lot of Winfield High School.
Instead of driving by the residents in the parade, senior Dylan Michael chose to ride by the crowd on his horse, Sugar, which brought cheers from the onlookers.
“I’ve done it before in a parade when I was a little kid, but I never could in high school because I was in sports,” Michael said. “I just wanted to go out with a bang.”
The graduation parade was the brainchild of Colbert’s mother, Holli Seidel, who saw schools across the St. Louis Metropolitan Area postponing and canceling their commencement ceremonies due to the COVID-19 outbreak – and wanting to honor Winfield’s 2020 graduates, as well as kindergarteners from Winfield Elementary School.
Through social media, e-mails and Student All-Call, which is an automated call from students to parents. Seidel and student volunteers spreaded word of the parade to town residents. Though the schools couldn’t be actively involved in the planning because of governmental restrictions, they were allowed to spread the word of the parade.
“When I heard other schools were postponing their graduations, and we hadn’t heard anything yet (from the school board), I wanted to hold an event for the graduates,” Seidel said. “It was a great turnout, and it was amazing how the community turned out for the parade.”
Seidel said nearly every graduating senior participated in the parade, and added they are a close-knit group that isn’t just classmates, but family.
Students were eager to thank Seidel for holding the parade, including her son.
“I was kind of upset that we wouldn’t have a normal graduation,” senior Matthew Bates said. “When (Seidel) told us about (the graduation parade), we thought it was a great way for the seniors to go out.”
“The parade my mom was able to set up for me and my classmates was way better than graduation because we might not get one,” Colbert said. “It was everything I could ask for – and more.”
The Winfield City Council will meet on Tuesday to decide if there will be an official graduation ceremony in the summer for the Class of 2020, an event Bates and his mother, Teresa Roques, are hoping will still take place.
“Even though the parade was great, I’d like to walk across the stage one last time,” Bates said.
“It’s been heartbreaking,” Roques said. “I’m glad we got to see them do something, but we would have liked to see (the seniors) walk across the stage.
“They will eventually. We just don’t know when.”
The students have already received their diplomas when they cleaned out their lockers last week. Seidel said many of the students still want to attend graduation, but if there isn’t one, they were content with the parade.
“Many of the kids want to be able to walk across the stage, but they told me if they don’t get to, (the graduation parade) was enough – and that makes me want to cry,” she said.