SIOUX CENTER—Forty-seven Sioux Center Christian eighth-grade students are gearing up for a different kind of graduation this year.
The Christian school has been working with the Sioux Center Police Department and Sioux County Community Health Partners to create a tailgate-style graduation set for 7 p.m. Thursday, May 21, at the All Seasons Center parking lot. Rain date is Friday, May 22.
Closer parking spots near the stage will be reserved for graduates. One parking spot will be reserved per graduate. Ushers will be available to assist. Everyone is invited to attend. The school is not putting a limit on how many may attend per graduate.
Graduates are encouraged to decorate their vehicles with streamers, balloons and pictures.
“Let’s fill up the parking lot,” said Lisa Mouw, director of learning, who gets excited about the graduation portion of the school year. “We offer an eighth-grade graduation because it’s a transition time in the lives of our students. Our school ends at eighth grade, and then students go to high school. We want to mark this transition through celebration and honoring what God has done in the lives of these students. It is an important time to reflect on the past, celebrate today, and look with excitement toward the future.”
Mouw said everyone should plan to stay in their car, sit in the back of a pickup or sit outside on the driver side of their vehicle to follow the 6-foot social distancing guidelines from those not in their household.
The Christian school is partnering with Dordt University’s radio station, KDCR 88.5 FM, who will broadcast the entire event. Vehicle participants can tune in to that station to make sure they hear everything. The event will also be livestreamed on the school’s website, www.siouxcenterchristian.com.
During the ceremony each graduate will receive a diploma and a special treat from the school. Christian school board president Paul Ross will place both items on a table on the stage and one graduate will be called up at a time from their cars to walk across the stage to pick up their diploma while the audience cheers and honks.
The graduation program will be posted on the school’s website.
Instead of a reception at the end of the ceremony, the school has planned to do a parade around town in which everyone is invited to join.
“We’ll make sure to drive by school so graduates can wave goodbye,” Mouw said.
Knowing that a traditional graduation wasn’t going be an option, school leaders held an eighth-grade class Zoom meeting where they asked the students what was important to them related to graduation.
“Students shared that three things were important to them: some kind of live ceremony, getting to walk across stage to get their diploma and getting cupcakes. They absolutely did not want anything virtual,” said Josh Bowar, head of school. “I’m excited to share that we will be able to do all three things they asked for, even if it’s in a different way. I know that it can be disappointing to do things differently, but I am confident we will be able to celebrate well. The parking lot idea actually came from some of our students. We have really creative and talented kids.”
Gathering student input was important to the school leadership because “school is for students,” Bowar said.
“That’s why we exist, and our mission is to disciple and equip students to serve God and others in their work and play,” he continued. “To disciple and equip students, you need to engage them. You need to show that you care about what they think. They need to be active. Graduation is for the eighth graders and we wanted to show that we care in a tangible way by getting their input. This is not the graduation that they may have envisioned through the past several years as they advanced in the grades in our school, but we hope this will still be a time to celebrate, a fun event, and something they will look back on and see how special their year was and that we still did everything we could to end well with them.”
The school considered moving the date of its graduation in the hopes of doing something more face-to-face like what it normally does, but after touching base with local officials, it became clear that large group gatherings may be unlikely even into June and July.
Bowar also said doing anything face-to-face would mean the school would need to limit the people who could attend and school leaders didn’t want to do that.
“We want everyone who wants to participate to be able to come to the event,” Mouw said. “Also, once you get into June and July, students are looking toward high school, and an eighth-grade graduation won’t be as meaningful. We felt it’s important to celebrate the accomplishment now while it’s fresh in our minds, and we chose to have the event the same date as our original graduation ceremony, just to show that we can do things as we had planned, but just need to do some creative thinking. We can keep living our lives, we will keep living out our mission, and we can do that in safe ways.”
“We look forward to a fun celebration that celebrates what God has done in the lives of our graduates,” Bowar said. “ God has had His hand on students at SCCS for more than 115 years, and we are confident that will continue long into the future. We praise Him for His faithfulness and thank our school supporters for their faithfulness as well.”