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Cul-de-sac celebration: Neighborhood honors graduates with block party amid pandemic

What greeted a dozen Orchards-area graduates Friday may not have been what they grew up imagining. But as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, one neighborhood’s celebration of its students was the best they could have received.

Eleven graduates from Prairie and Heritage high schools were honored last week in a block party in the Wolf Creek Development. Even one preschool student, Wyatt Rodgers, joined in the fun to celebrate “graduating” from Glenwood Early Learning Center.

“He plans to take the summer off to just be a kid,” according to the ceremony’s digital program.

This was no casual barbecue, though. Residents of N.E. 112th Court decorated their houses with streamers and balloons noting these students’ achievements.

Graduates sat in their caps and gowns in the middle of the cul-de-sac, while families set up to watch from their yards. Instead of diplomas, students received ceremonial rolls of toilet paper and homemade cookies.

Graduation speaker Travis Drake, principal at Laurin Middle School, put it most concisely in his speech.

“You guys are nuts,” Drake said. “This is awesome.”

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered schools to close March 13 as part of the state’s effort to clamp down on COVID-19 cases. It’s meant the traditional trappings of senior year have been moved online or to socially distanced facsimiles.

“It doesn’t feel real,” 18-year-old Sophia Carter, a Prairie High School graduate, said of the pandemic’s impact. Carter is heading to Western Washington University to study kinesiology.

Large in-person gatherings such as graduation are still a no-go, even as social distancing restrictions start to ease. Despite the limitations, seniors like 18-year-old David Hatcher appreciated the chance at a ceremony.

“I like this,” said Hatcher, a musician who plans to attend Mt. Hood Community College before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s really small.”

For Samantha Hyder, who described herself as a “ring leader” of the cul-de-sac, Friday’s graduation was the latest example of a neighborhood that for years has been coming together in support of its children.

In the midst of the challenges posed by the disease’s spread, this neighborhood has been turning everything up to 11 — literally. For 70 days, ending Friday, neighbors gathered in their yards with noise makers, pots and pans, and instruments to make “Grateful Noise” in honor of health professionals and first responders.

Neighbors, who for years have met for weekly Tuesday dinners, have continued the tradition, each family eating in their own yards and yelling across the street at each other.

“COVID has brought out the best of us,” Hyder said.

The ceremony came together with less than $100, donated talent and a dream, she said. These small efforts combined, she said, are worth it.

“Our children in this world deserve space, deserve to be heard, deserve to be honored,” Hyder said. “COVID and quarantine can’t devastate that.”


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