When asked whether he enjoyed celebrating his graduation from Challis High School with a parade, Salutatorian Austin Ollar said "it was awesome. They should do it next year."
Many people expressed similar sentiments as they watched Ollar and 19 other graduating seniors celebrate their achievement by rolling down Main in decorated autos, off-road vehicles and horses. The parade was a replacement for a traditional graduation ceremony because of COVID-19 restrictions on group gatherings.
The virus has resulted in many community events being canceled in the last couple of months. With the parade perhaps being the longest period of time that some Challis residents were away from their homes, people took it the opportunity to have fun. As the parade worked its way down Main, a few people walked to and from cars parked on the side of the street. They talked and caught up with friends, congratulated parents on the graduates' hard work and made jokes about the pandemic.
Parade organizers asked everyone to stay in their autos or keep 6 feet of physical distance between one other. Rosemary Savage, who chose to watch the parade from the comfort of her car, said she wished more people would have watched from their cars as well. However, Savage said she understands why people were taking the risk of mingling outside.
For the most part, the people outside their vehicles kept close to them and did not stray too far. Bill Bradshaw, whose graduating son Bruin brought up the rear of the parade on his horse, sat with his family outside their vehicle and said he didn't mind the restrictions. He was just happy to have a ceremony.
People had such a good time Challis High Principal Kari Alexander said they might do it again in the future if the pandemic necessitates it.
"We can do anything," Alexander said.
Ollar expressed similar confidence when he gave his salutatorian speech. He told a parable about a group of kids climbing a tree. Their parents found out what they were doing and yelled at them to come down, fearing for their safety. They all did, except one. A deaf boy kept climbing and reached the top because he didn't let his doubt or the doubts of others hold him back.
Ollar was one of four salutatorians, although the graduation program listed only three. Kingston Anderson had the same grade point average as the other three listed salutatorians. School administrators wait until all course work is complete before determining the top students each year. Anderson's accomplishments were inadvertently overlooked before the parade. He joined Ollar, Charlie Bullock and Austin Anderson as co-salutatorians.
Some seniors took the opportunity to show their gratitude to the community. Emma Lloyd, who decorated her horse with 2020 on its rump, pulled out of the parade line to give Bonnie Haeberle a flower. Lloyd said Haeberle is a long-time family friend and she wanted to thank her for her support.
Graduate Brandon Tamayo said his last year of high school was difficult. Having to switch to remote, online education partway through the year was jarring, he said. The unfamiliar style of learning took awhile to get used to, but Tamayo said he and his friends were able to figure it out in time to receive their diplomas.
"At least I'm done," Tamayo said with a smile and shrug.
Commencement speaker Tom Coates said Challis students as a whole had to endure a lot this school year. Speakers stopped in front of the Custer County Courthouse where teachers/DJs Jennifer Piva and Debbie Sheppeard gave them a microphone to broadcast their speeches on KSRA radio. When it came time for Coates to speak, he needed a little help getting out of his ride. However, once he arrived at the microphone, he didn't need any help. He spoke about the importance of overcoming unexpected adversities and how important it is graduates never forget everything they went through to get to this point.
"You have learned a bit of what to expect in life and how to meet the challenges," Coates said. "You learned how to adapt, improvise and overcome."
Challis School Board Chairman Brett Plummer said he was happy with how successful the ceremony was, but he looks forward to a normal school year next fall. The future is uncertain since no one knows if physical distancing standards will still be in place when school resumes. The plan is to expect a regular year of school, but if they have to continue remote teaching, Plummer said everyone is ready.
"Our teachers and staff are outstanding," Plummer said. "They all really stepped up and went beyond what was asked of them."
Plummer said planning the parade was a team effort between school, staff, parents and students. He said everyone involved spent countless hours over the past few weeks getting everything ready.
He gave a lot of credit to Ang Sugden, high school counselor and senior class adviser, for organizing the parade and coordinating the team. He said graduation would not have been possible without her.
Plummer said he was happy this graduation went well and the graduates had a good time.
"We stuck through it," he said.