A senior sendoff for Fort Atkinson High School’s Class of 2020 will take place Friday evening, June 12, at Jones Park.

Keri Kloskey Koegel, Michelle Solem and Jamie Stedman, mothers of three graduating seniors, started organizing #FAHS2020SeniorSendoff when it became clear that the closure of school buildings due to the coronavirus pandemic would prompt cancellation of the traditional commencement ceremony.

Instead, a “virtual” graduation is slated for Sunday, June 14.

“The Class of 2020 is not going to have a graduation as we all know it. It will be a ‘virtual’ celebration. They will not walk across the stage, take graduation pictures or move the tassel as a group with their friends,” Koegel, Solem and Stedman wrote in a public invitation. “We want to give them the proper sendoff that they deserve.”

From 6 to 7 p.m. that day, seniors are invited to meet at Jones Park in cap and gown to say “congratulations” and “goodbye” to classmates, and take some photos with them.

Then at 6:45 p.m., they are asked to spread out along the perimeter of Jones Park so the community can wish them well through 8 p.m.

The public, meanwhile, is asked to meet in the former Shopko parking lot at 6 p.m. to line up for a 7 p.m. “parade” counter-clockwise around Jones Park. Participants are encouraged to decorate their vehicles with banners or signs congratulating the seniors.

All attendees are asked to stay off the Jones Park ballfield. The event will be held rain or shine.

The three parents of graduating students noted that senior year is a special time for young people.

Koegel said that her daughter, Alexa, did not get to attend her last Show Choir competition, continue her excitement of her “last-ever” semester of high school, go to prom or attend her graduation ceremony.

“I remember the end of my senior year spending as much time with friends as I could,” Koegel said. “Having our yearbooks signed by all of our friends for the last time. Getting ready with two of my close friends for our graduation ceremony and riding there together. Throwing our caps off after graduation and then attending as many graduation parties we could. Definitely a memory to cherish forever. Something the 2020 seniors will not be doing.”

Stedman echoed those thoughts regarding her daughter, Caitlin.

“For Caitlin, having her senior year end with no prom, no senior awards, no senior skip day, no spring sports is beyond heartbreaking,” Stedman said. “Watching many cousins graduate over the years has kept the excitement for her own day to arrive after 13 years of hard work. Sadly, the pandemic has taken that away.”

Stedman said that her daughter was most looking forward to “walking across the stage in front of classmates, friends and family, symbolic of her accomplishments, hopes and dreams wrapped into one moment. A moment we all deserve.”

She said that saying that the past three months has been hard would be an understatement.

“Having this special day canceled was just another blow to Caitlin and her class,” the mother said. “Not being able to say goodbye to her friends and classmates in person who she might never see again. Not having the chance to see her favorite teachers in class one more time, to tell them how much their support has meant these past four years. The missed moment of throwing her cap in the air as a celebration of the next chapter to come ... feels all wrong.”

Stedman said that she and Caitlin feel it is unfair, and that no senior deserves to miss this day.

“She hopes the event at Jones Park will help fill the void for them all in some way,” she said.

Solem, mother of senior Cassie Solem, noted that her own senior year was riddled with “send-off events.”

“It started with prom,” she recalled. “Then the Woman’s Club sponsored a tea for the senior ladies. All of the seniors were recognized and celebrated as inductees to the alumni association at the annual alumni banquet. The seniors were also recognized and celebrated at the year-end banquets for each of their respective clubs, organizations and sports teams.”

Solem noted that it was a special time for seniors. They recognized that it would be a while before they saw many of these people and some they would never see again.

“This year is different,” she said. “These kids — young adults — have been robbed of all of these events, starting with prom. Their senior year abruptly ended. All of a sudden, after spending many days every year for the past 13 years with these friends and classmates, there was a health emergency and school was canceled for the year. No final pictures, no banquets, no senior skip day and no senior class trip. Then came the crushing news — the graduation ceremony that they had been waiting for for four years wasn’t going to be what they expected; it will be a virtual ceremony online.”

Solem said that the idea of a virtual graduation ceremony breaks her heart.

“There will be no processional with their best friend. Walking across the stage to get the diploma that they achieved through many hours of blood, sweat and tears and shaking the hands of the administrators to the cheers of family and friends isn’t going to happen,” Solom said.

The class will not be moving the tassel from one side to the other symbolizing the new chapter they are about to begin individually. The recessional — the final exit, with diploma in hand, also canceled, she said.

“A selfie of the senior in cap and gown with a Photoshopped image of their bestie just isn’t the same,” Solom said. “Sure, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram help, but it just is not the same, especially since they, for the most part, haven’t seen each other in three months. It sickens me that the 2020 seniors will miss out on all of these memories and more.”

She shared that her daughter, Cassie is “bummed.”

“She is bummed that there is no prom this year; she had her dress before they canceled it,” Solon said. “She was looking forward to senior skip day and her senior class trip, missing school when everyone else was there was something she was really looking forward to. She doesn’t get to see her favorite teacher Mr. (Nick) Hamele. She said that saying goodbye to high school classes, friends and teachers in a video is not the same. Picking up her diploma alone in a mask and gloves is just wrong and sad. She said she worked hard and deserves a proper graduation ceremony.”

Solon said that Cassie and her best friend, Caitlin, had been planning to walk across the stage together to receive their diplomas since they were in fourth grade.

“She is looking forward to the #FAHS2020SeniorSendoff and getting pictures with her classmates in their cap and gown giving a proper goodbye to those that have been a big part of her life for the past 13 years,” the mother said.

“We want these kids — young adults, really — to have something good to remember from their senior year. It shouldn’t be about the perceived pandemic or the rioting, but about the 2020 seniors and their accomplishments.”

That is why she and the other two mothers planned the Senior Sendoff, she said.

“They will be able to take ‘graduation’ pictures with their friends and classmates — those all important selfies,” Solon said. “They can wear facemasks if they choose and take them off for the pictures. They can be as close to their friends as they feel comfortable, but we encourage social distancing. The park is big enough that they can be together and not on top of each other.”

At the same time, she encouraged parents, family and other supporters are encouraged to meet at the former Shopko parking lot to deck out their cars.

“Bring window paint, signs, balloons and streams and decorate your car for the seniors or a special senior,” she said. “Send your congratulations and well wishes with your decked-out car. ... give a toot of the horn to your favorite senior or the entire class to let them know that they have the support of not only their friends and family, but the entire community of Fort Atkinson.”

She said that there is a Facebook event to add to one’s calendar and to share with family and friends. Solon asked that when doing so, one uses the hashtag #FAHS2020SeniorSendoff.

Meanwhile, the school district has partnered with Herff Jones, in collaboration with graduation technology partners StageClip and MarchingOrder, to host the virtual commencement at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 14.

Herff Jones is an American company that manufactures and sells educational recognition and achievement products, and its easy-to-use platform makes hosting a virtual ceremony simple. Each graduate will receive his or her own personalized content as a gift from the school to share on social media with family and friends using the hashtags #GradAWAYtion and #MoveTheTassel.

In addition, a tentative diploma-distribution photo opportunity has been scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 19. Pending recommendations from the state and school district attorneys, this is subject to change.

Seniors may request having their diploma mailed earlier between June 14 and July 19 by calling the high school main office at (920) 563-7811. If the diploma has not been picked up by that date, or it is determined that the district will not be able to hold a photo opportunity, the district will mail diplomas to the student addresses listed in PowerSchool after that date.

The virtual graduation ceremony will be able to be accessed via a link on the district’s homepage, fortschools.org, as well as on the district and high school’s Facebook pages.

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