It was like a movie come to life, or in this case, a filmed graduation.
This time it was real. Graduating seniors, dressed in their cap and gowns, filled the gym at Arlington High School on Sunday with seats spread 6 feet apart, surrounded by a smaller than normal group of families and friends in chairs and on risers.
The seniors finally crossed the stage.
Things looked different but the same. The same gowns, the same excitement, and most of the same speeches as from the May 17 recorded graduation.
"I'm so grateful we were able to finally have the ceremony for these kids. It was so good to see them all together again and now I feel like they can close out their senior year and move on to that next step and it wasn't just a video thing," Supt. Dawn Lewis said. "It was live and we got to celebrate with them and encourage them and help them move forward."
Seniors, some of whom saw classmates for the first time since March, were excited for the ceremony to happen.
"It means a lot to see everyone," Mary Helms said. "The last high school event gives closure.”
"It's a great feeling, honestly because of all the hard work and process we have been going through," Rafe Lorsch said. "We all stood together and as a family."
Danica Born said it had been a long road but it was nice to be officially graduated.
"It was kind of an abrupt ending because we didn't know what was happening, but we knew our school would figure out something to honor us," she said.
Parents were as excited as their seniors that they had this opportunity.
"I think it's great and I'm glad we are able to do it. It's going to give us a lot of closure I think," Julie Helms said.
Cindy Hoffschneider, whose children, Chloe and Noah, were among the graduates, said she thought this ceremony was mostly for the parents and family.
Her husband, Ben, didn't know if the graduation would even happen.
"I thought possibly they'd schedule it and then there'd be an outbreak and they'd cancel so until we were actually here I was skeptical," he said.
"It's long overdue and I'm really happy, this is a thriller moment for all of us," parent Thao Rangel said. Her son, Kirk, plans to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "I'm happy that the rest of the seniors get to graduate and have their moment, too, because it's a big achievement."
"For the kids, it's exciting," said parent Laura Luttig, after watching son, Alex, graduate. "For them, it's the culmination of everything they've been waiting for. It's their time to celebrate, and I'm glad they finally get it. As a parent, it's a closure moment."
For the administration, it was a bit of normalcy in a different time.
"We are excited to celebrate the kids with their families like we usually do," AHS Assistant Principal and Activities Director James Shada said. "We are thankful for the opportunity. It's fun to see them together."
In addition to the presentation of the class, Principal Aaron Pfingsten recognized retiring staff and long-serving members, including physical education teacher Steve Johnson, who retired after 38 years; director of food services Julie French, 30 years; speech pathologist Deb Walling, 20 years; and teacher Deb Washburn, vocal music teacher Burina Crosland, preschool teacher Gail Barth and paraprofessional Merrit Gilmore, 15 years respectively.
Pfingsten said students were admitted to 44 colleges in 17 states and will attend 19 colleges in eight states. Scholarships and grants were offered to 68 percent of the class of more than $924,000, with $415,000 being accepted for the 2020-21 school year. The scholarships and grants are renewable for more than $1.5 million over a four-year period, Pfingsten said.
The top 10 percent of the graduating class included Lily Hilgenkamp, valedictorian; Madison Brennfoerder, salutatorian; Chloe Hoffschneider, Noah Hoffschneider; Tanner Pittman; and Jaidyn Spoon.