MORAN — No one at Marmaton Valley High School had ever seen a graduation quite like the one that took place Tuesday evening.
Graduates and their families drove through the town, acknowledging residents who waved from their doorsteps or stood on sidewalks, by honking their horns.
Once at their destination — the MVHS parking lot — they parked their cars, mindful of social distance regulations demanded by the coronavirus pandemic.
Across the parking lot the graduates waved and shouted to each other, some venturing a bit closer than recommended, as they waited for their names to be called to receive their diplomas.
The first graduate, Braden Allison, entered the school with his parents at his side. As they walked down the “senior hallway” decorated with orange and black streamers, a handful of school board members lined the way, offering their congratulations. Principal Kim Ensminger and Superintendent Ken McWhirter stood at the corridor’s end to hand Allison his diploma and offer heartfelt congratulations.
McWhirter offered a fist bump.
“It felt different. It’s an experience,” Allison said afterward. “Things were tough but overall it’s something we had to go through, and it’s an experience we’ll always remember.”
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His thoughts were echoed by other graduates, 16 in all, who attended the combination drive-through/walk-through commencement ceremony.
Alec Cochran said he was glad to have finally graduated, however different the experience might have been.
“I was good with anything,” he said.
His mother, Kim Cochran, said their extended family had gathered together along the drive-by route to cheer Alec and the other graduates as they passed by.
“It was really nice to see a small community come together,” she said.
Graduate Rachel Shaffer, who was a valedictorian along with Ty Scharff and would have given a speech during a traditional commencement, said she initially wasn’t excited about the modified event. That changed once she arrived and saw all of her friends.
“I was so excited to see everyone, even though we were all 10 feet apart in a parking lot,” she said. “I kind of want to keep hanging out with them.”
Sadly, though, that wasn’t allowed. There will be no “senior party.” Not even a senior trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, as planned, which graduate Eric Stahl said really disappointed him.
“I’m sure we’ll do something later, when this is all over,” he said.
After seniors received their diplomas, Ensminger gathered them in a very large circle in the parking lot. She pointed to each graduate and shared a fact about them.
“Eric, at track meets you were the Energizer bunny. You didn’t know how to stop,” she said, pointing to Stahl.
“Bo (Knavel), the linebacker on the basketball court.
“Zoi (Yoho), the animal lover.
“Allison (Heim), the day you were born, I held you.”
And on and on.
“You guys are near and dear to me, every one of you. I’m so thankful I got to be part of your lives.”