New confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Custer County almost ended the Mackay High School graduation ceremony before it began Saturday.
But quick thinking by school leaders let Mackay seniors get their moment under the sun.
"What are you going to do?" Mackay Superintendent Susan Buescher asked rhetorically. Buescher had only the night before the June 27 ceremony to let parents, family and friends of graduates know about the new rules for the event.
East Idaho Public Health officials diagnosed a Custer County man in his 20s with COVID-19 on June 25. Buescher said the confirmed case of community transmission alarmed many Mackay community members. Plus, Buescher said, a family member of a graduate tested positive, but that person doesn't live in Custer County. Custer County's positive coronavirus case count has now increased to five.
The two cases with a Mackay connection were enough to prompt Buescher to send out notices that the graduation ceremony would be more restrictive and would be broadcast live on the high school's Facebook page.
Volunteers pared down seating to limit family members up front, graduates on a stage and a couple of seats next to the stage for guest speakers. The ceremony took place on the football field. Originally hoping to give the seniors multiple seats for friends and family members, Buescher and Principal Stephanie Green limited seating to guarantee adequate physical distancing.
"I think it's great they're just doing something," graduate Philina Beare's mother, Andrea, said.
"We had to adapt and come up with something new," said Roscoe Beare, brother of the graduate. Buescher made a point of involving the graduates' families throughout the planning process for the delayed event.
As "Pomp and Circumstance" began playing, everyone took their seats and watched the nine graduates slowly march across the football field. Wearing masks along with their caps and gowns, the seniors took their seats on a large stage. According to Valedictorian Jacoda Whitworth, the strangeness of the event wasn't lost on them.
Whitworth reflected on his time growing up with his eight classmates. They've known each other for years, and Whitworth said parting ways at this moment carries a bit of uncertainty. However, Whitworth said the experience showed them they have to "live every day to its fullest" and not take good times for granted.
After the ceremony, Whitworth said the hardest part of the pandemic for the class members was having their spring semester upended. Missing out on sports and having to learn from home initially made Whitworth depressed, but he and his friends pushed through. They found new ways to hang out and managed to finish their high school education, and Whitworth said they are all stronger for the experience.
Salutatorian Aspen Wasylow also reflected on growing up with her classmates. This small group of seniors have known one another since they were little, and Wasylow said they always had each other's backs. Whether it was helping classmates study or opening a locked door to the school, Wasylow said they always came through for each other.
The memories were bittersweet, as she pointed out it's now time to move on. She said the only universal truth is that endings are inevitable and the time has come to say goodbye. Quoting Winnie the Pooh, Wasylow said, "How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?"
Principal Green thanked the parents for sharing their children with her, both as an English teacher and principal. She said it was fun teaching this class and it was a privilege to see them adapt to their last semester as high school students. She asked the students to never forget what they learned these past few months and to remember they will always have friends in Mackay.