Graduation comes early to Malheur County’s class of 2020

Brianna Beesley, a senior and student body president at Vale High School, is among the twelfth graders who have officially graduated after the state put out guidance for high school seniors last week. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

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VALE – Brianna Beesley found out by phone Wednesday morning that she had graduated high school.

“Congratulations!” Principal Mary Jo Sharp told the Vale High School senior on the call.

Beesley, the school’s student body president, is among the students in twelfth grade who have officially graduated. The state released guidance last week detailing how Oregon’s seniors will graduate and announced that schools will not reopen for the remainder of the school year. 

According to the guidance, any senior student who was passing their classes as of March 13 will receive an automatic pass for that class.

“I refuse to punish students, many who have been in Oregon schools for over a decade, because they could not attend classes for a little over two months,” Gov. Kate Brown said in a press conference.

Brown said the new pass/incomplete system will not impact admissions to public universities this fall – no student will have their admission taken away due to changes in this new grading policy or inability to complete their coursework as long as they still graduate.

Schools have until April 30 to come up with a game plan for seniors who were not on track to graduate when schools closed in mid-March.

“We’re asking our school districts to focus their efforts to find creative ways to get these seniors across the finish line,” Brown said.

These students will continue with distance learning for the courses they still need until the end of the school year, with a possible extension until Aug. 31, in order to receive the necessary credits for graduation with the class of 2020.

“If needed, we will provide distance learning options for seniors to meet graduation requirements through the summer,” Alisha McBride, Vale School District superintendent, wrote in an email.

In the coming weeks, schools will be working to audit student transcripts and notify families on the status of each student. There are between 350 and 400 seniors in the county.

The state’s guidance also encouraged schools to begin planning alternative graduation ceremonies; schools were told to plan for the possibility of completely virtual celebrations. The guidance does not explicitly mention whether schools should name valedictorians or salutatorians. Ontario, Vale and Nyssa High School confirmed that they would announce a valedictorian and salutatorian. 

“Graduation is something I was so excited for,” said Beesley, a Vale Viking since preschool. “It’s the end result of all your hard work. Your 13 years in school that’s what you work for, that graduating moment when you throw your hat up in the air.”

As a student body president, she would’ve been closely planning events leading up to graduation. She said she and her friends had made plans to pick out prom dresses together – some classmates already had their outfits purchased.

Local high schools are currently brainstorming ways to celebrate graduates.

“We recognize this is an extremely important rite of passage for all seniors and will do everything possible to honor them,” Ontario High School Principal Jodi Elizondo wrote in a letter to families.

Ontario High is tasking student leaders with contacting classmates to gather ideas and preferences. The school is also soliciting ideas from the community and encouraging people to call or email the high school with suggestions.

The Vale and Ontario school districts are joining other districts across the state in the #BeTheLightOR campaign. The state-wide campaign is an effort to honor the class of 2020 and the canceled sports season by turning on stadium lights each Friday at 8:20 (20:20 military time) through the end of the school year.

Beesley was most looking forward to the bittersweet last few months of high school.

“The traditional coming back after spring break and realizing you have just a couple months left, the end of the year with all my underclassmen and being able to give them all my advice,” she said, of the many things she’ll miss.

She said she and her fellow students are grateful for what they’ve had.

Now, whenever anyone says school is too difficult, she said her first thought will be “having it all taken away is so much worse.”

Beesley and her classmates are staying connected via social media and texting, but planning things is a challenge.

“Overall,” she said, “we have come together more as a class.”

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.


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