MEDFORD, Ore--- Hundreds of people, including local police and firefighters, stood on local sidewalks to cheer on the Class of 2020 on Friday.
Southern Oregon was home to several graduation parades, which is a major change to what normally happens at this time of year.
"We did not get to have our regular graduation, or have prom, or do Milli Vanilli, and stuff like that," said Central Medford graduate Madison Felder. "So, the fact that we get to get out and show "Yeah we graduated even during this" is really cool.
In Medford, the graduates met at the elementary schools where they started their careers. At the schools, the students caught up with teachers that they had in their early schooling years.
"It is awesome because as a first-grade teacher, we don't always get to see kids later on in life," said Jackson Elementary first-grade teacher Megan Muro. "So, to be able to connect with them and hear about what their plans are after graduation has been super exciting."
It was a fitting start to a day that would bring the students to the final step of their high school career, graduation.
It is safe to say that the road that led the graduates to this moment has been rocky. The coronavirus pandemic led to Governor Kate Brown's decision to end school for the rest of the year. That led to the most important milestones in a young person's life to fall by the wayside. Prom, spirit trips, sports seasons, and normal graduations were taken off the schedule.
McGloughlin Middle School teacher Mark Happeny reflected on the kids' response while he watched them drive by.
"The kids are brilliant," said McGloughlin Middle School teacher Mark Happeny. "They get a bad rap sometimes just as we did when we were younger. The things that we are asking them to do in the classroom are so much more elevated, and higher, and complex than we were ever asked to do."
Happeny got to have that reflection at the middle school because after the graduates caught up at the elementary schools, they got on busses and looped the middle schools they attended. Each student spread out inside the bus to ensure safe social distancing. As they drove by, loud cheers and applause went far into the sky. The smiling faces of the graduating class looked out the windows back at the teachers.
After that, the school busses made their way to Jackson Street next to the Medford Center.
When the graduates rolled down Jackson, they were met by the Medford Police Department and Medford Fire-Rescue blaring their sirens and flashing their lights. Medford Fire-Rescue had a large banner attached to the ladder of a fire truck that read "Congratulations Class of 2020."
Many teachers stood by and reflected the resiliency of this particular group of kids.
One outstanding positive came from the students and teachers. Many of them said that this class will have the most unique stories of their senior year of any class in history.
"I think that having the opportunity to be able to tell the generation under us what happened and not to be scared of thinking "Oh, I am not going to graduate." You will," said Felder. "It is such a great opportunity to be able to have a unique story to tell."
In Ashland, the festivities were just heating up as the sun was on its way down. Vehicles filled with dancing students rolled down a cram-packed Siskiyou Boulevard near Ashland High School. The parade was escorted by Ashland police. An announcer shouting the names of each graduate on a loudspeaker. As the students passed the announcer, they moved their tassel across their cap. The kids finally experiencing the moment that turns them from seniors to graduates.
If you sat in the right spot, it almost felt like you were at the famous 4th of July parade held in Ashland.
Many of the people attending were wearing masks, but that did not hide the joy and excitement from the parents that watched their children drive by.
All of it will never be able to eclipse what the Class of 2020 sacrificed, but the students seemed extremely grateful that their community did something.
"It means a lot to me, considering at the start of the virus a lot of us did not think we would graduate, including myself," said Felder. "So, the fact that the community is coming out of their way to make sure that we get gratitude for what we did means a lot."
North, South, and Central Medford students will receive their diplomas at graduation walks at each school on Saturday. Information for those walks can be found at https://www.medford.k12.or.us/domain/2233.