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In Pendleton, Rounding Up High Schoolers For A Graduation Before Grabbing Life By The Horns

Courtesy of Marcus Luke (father)
Pendleton High School senior Marcus Aaron Luke, left, was excited and ready for his last year running track. Then coronavirus disrupted everyone's plans.

When Marcus Aaron Luke runs fast, everything feels slow. 

“You feel every small step,” he says. “You feel every small detail.”

But in the pandemic year of 2020, he’s missed a lot of important details of his last year of high school.

Luke was a leader on his varsity track team, and also as a senior at Pendleton High School in northeastern Oregon. He missed his much-anticipated senior track season. Now bigger and stronger, he was ready to push his times down even more. 

He’s missed more than two months of classes.  

And now, like high schoolers across the nation, he’s missing out on a traditional graduation. 

Instead, the plan is for Luke’s class to grab their diplomas in a drive-thru convoy.   

The states of Oregon and Washington have developed guidelines for how high school graduations will go down but both states ban the traditional mass-gathering ceremonies. 

Drive-thru graduations are one way Northwest high schools are retooling these gatherings to keep people safe from the coronavirus, assuming infection rates don’t rise. In that case and for counties still experiencing high infection rates, graduations will go entirely online, with elements like video outtakes of seniors’ moments and tributes to the class of 2020.

And experts say many high schoolers are grappling with the disappointment of not being able to be near their friends, or have a traditional ceremony. 

Good Attitude

Gwen Lewis says each young person’s brain is a unique puzzle.

She is a pediatric neuropsychologist in Edmonds, Washington. And she likes teaching children and youth about their own unique abilities. She says, there’s no doubt this pandemic will leave its mark on their psyches. Homeschooling, not seeing friends, a disrupted schedule — all can cause friction between parents and youth. 

“They’ll have marks of this time in their consciousness and in their emotions,” Lewis says. “And one thing you could do is take out a piece of paper or like a journal and write the things that you look forward to.”  

She says things may be on hold for a while, but making a list of hopeful things will help embrace a more positive future. And she says it’s those teens who think positively who will win out later in life. 

“What do we learn from this?” Lewis says. “Because we’ve all learned from this. We’ve learned we can do things that we never thought that we could do before. Because no one should go through these experiences without learning something from them.”

Disappointment And Celebration

Marcus Aaron Luke has never been a huge celebration guy. He’s never really liked having a big birthday or anything. But this is 12 years of work, all done. Beginning a new life in college. To him, it’s a big deal. 

Credit Marcus Luke (father)
Playing saxophone for his high school band, Marcus Aaron Luke, left, is adjusting to a final semester and a different graduation ceremony.

Soon a convoy of his friends and their families will drive through the Pendleton Round-Up rodeo grounds together to receive their diplomas. 

He’s not sure how it will all work yet, but he knows they’ll roll through the dusty rodeo grounds together to gather their diplomas. 

His friends will be in the same convoy, but they won’t be able to hug afterwards. 

His aunties, step mom and other extended family members will stay home and watch the live stream. 

But in the car with Luke will be his split-up parents, grandparents, and his grandparents’ foster children. Sort of like the good guys all coming together at the end of a movie, he says.

“It will be good for both sides to come together a little bit, just for graduation,” Luke says. “It’s kind of a good way to end the chapter.” 

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.