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Setting the stage: Celebrating Inland Northwest Seniors in virtual graduation

Setting the Stage: Graduation 2020 is a continuation of our commitment to show the seniors that this is a community that cares.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Graduation. Rear view of the student.

You can watch all seven parts of the graduation special at the bottom of the story.

This year would be like no other for the thousands of high school seniors throughout the region.  

Studying and stress for 12 years would only end abruptly with a COVID-19 lockdown, closing schools before those iconic senior moments. No prom, senior skip day, or graduation.  

However, like always, kids would be resilient and learn to school from home and connect digitally with teachers and fellow students. Parents would turn kitchens into make-shift classrooms and concentrate on getting their kids to the finish line.  And while that finish would lack the usual celebratory nature and traditional honors it would come with its own surprises.  

Drive-by graduations, socially distant zoom parties, and lawn art signage would replace the normal practice.   

Setting the Stage: Graduation 2020 is a continuation of our commitment to show the seniors that this is a community that cares.  It’s a community that knows right now it’s tough to be a teen and denied your final high school rituals.  

We can’t replace what you’ve lost but we can give you something different. And we can celebrate your accomplishments. So, congratulations and know that you make us proud. All of us at KREM 2 know you will go forward and craft a life that will be filled with surprises, challenges and many more celebrations. Here we are posting stories from our senior special and giving you a much deserved ‘shout-out.’

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“My husband had to remind me to breathe,” says Stephanie McKinney. It was a bad day with a full-on meltdown. “I feel like I never got that closure.”

The spring of 2020 really had mild weather. The average daytime temperature for May hovered in the mid-60s and you could begin to smell the small white and purple flowers blooming which have branded our community as the Lilac City. By all accounts, the Inland Northwest was in its natural glory.  However, it was and unusually quiet spring. No school busses were on the road and kids weren’t seen walking home, laughing, or congregating at local coffee shops or movie theaters.

And the kids weren’t at school. No one was at school. COVID-19 was in a full rush as the grass and flowers were in full bloom. Much of the state was in lockdown and that meant kids spent their dwindling days of high school at home. McKinney’s twin boys Tristin and Daniel were at their Northwest Spokane home studying, hoping, and waiting to see if they would get to have high school graduation or any of the other iconic moments of the end of senior year. The answer would come soon.

“We don’t do senior skip day, prom, and graduation,” says Tristin and Daniel who both attended North Central High School.

The story to the family was unfortunately not unique. Kids throughout the region were facing the facts:  the end of high school was the end. There will be limited fanfare, no last hallway goodbyes, and yearbooks would remain unsigned. But for McKinney and her boys it was especially tough to take.  McKinney was 15-years-old when she went to the doctors. She was 5-months pregnant. But that wasn’t the only surprise.

“They said, there are two babies in there. Of course, I’m 15 and I’m having twins,” says McKinney. 

But from day one she wished for her boys to go farther in school then she was able to do. McKinney dropped out as a high school sophomore to raise the boys. Her kids were going to graduate one day. She would have that walk across the stage if only vicariously through her boys. 

Only, the year of 2020 would deny most all families that tradition. And it was especially tough because Tristin and Daniel were going to be the first in their family to graduate high school. Their mother, father, and both sets of grandparents didn’t get that chance. And now, at 18-years-old they were going to wear the mantle of high school graduate and the family was poised to celebrate. 

“It’s a pretty big deal for the family,” says Daniel.

By the time we met with the family in late May, disappointment was beginning to turn to acceptance. While still struggling to deal with the lack of high school traditions that prep a parent for send-off the boys were making plans to attend college. Also, a first for the family. With the changing financial environment the boys decided to stay closer to home then originally planned and they proudly showed off their Eastern Washington University swage. That’s the next stop for the kids. Cheney, Washington would be their next home beyond the high school stage. 

And for mom Stephanie, the next stop was focusing on what did happen rather then what didn’t. 

“They wanted to make me proud and they did,”says McKinney.

Watch the KREM 2 Graduation Special below:

Part 1 (Mobile users, click here to watch)

Part 2 (Mobile users, click here to watch)

Part 3 (Mobile users, click here to watch)

Part 4 (Mobile users, click here to watch)

Part 5 (Mobile users, click here to watch)

Part 6 (Mobile users, click here to watch)

Part 7 (Mobile users, click here to watch)