Northwestern High School seniors graduated Friday, May 22 in a two-part ceremony.

The first portion took place outside the main doors that afternoon; the second, like the classes they’ve been taking for the past two months, was online — a virtual ceremony on the district’s YouTube channel.

From noon to 3 p.m. Friday, seniors drove up as teachers and staff cheered them on. Principal Mark Carlson introduced each one while classic rock music poured from speakers. Carlson, District Administrator Sara Croney and Associate Principal Brian Smith handed out diplomas. The students could stop and get a picture taken with their diploma in front of a banner.

“Oh my gosh, my heart is pounding so much right now,” said Kennedy Nelson, 2020 class president, after posing for a picture. “It’s been a good ride. It’s sad it’s over but this is awesome it’s …”

“The best it can be,” said her mother, Bethany. “You’ve got to embrace what you get, and we’re going to embrace it. It’s still a very important day.”

Senior body president Kennedy Nelson waits to get her diploma in her car with her mother at  Northwestern High School Friday afternoon, May 22.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Senior body president Kennedy Nelson waits to get her diploma in her car with her mother at Northwestern High School Friday afternoon, May 22. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

It wasn’t how any of the seniors envisioned their graduation, but the banners, balloons, loud music and friendly, masked faces were appreciated.

“This actually really made it like a good experience,” Kennedy Nelson said. “This is awesome. I have no words right now.”

A total of 107 students graduated this year, administrators said. Some seniors came through with parents and grandparents; others made the trip solo.

Paige Johnson, who works at Middle River Health and Rehabilitation Center, picked up her diploma on her way to work. She is one of the student speakers featured on the virtual ceremony. Her message to students was about perseverance and optimism.

“In the future you need to keep an open mind and just live life to the fullest,” Johnson said. “Life is what you make of it, basically.”

The class of 2020 is poised to enter college, military service and the workforce with a unique perspective.

“One of the things I feel our students are more prepared for is how to rise when there’s adversity,” Croney said. “No one wants to teach that type of a skill, but it’s something that’s necessary for life.”

The double-helping of graduation capped off a week of in-person events.

Staff applaud seniors as they drive in to pick up their diplomas Friday afternoon, May 22, at Northwestern High School Friday afternoon, May 22.  (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Staff applaud seniors as they drive in to pick up their diplomas Friday afternoon, May 22, at Northwestern High School Friday afternoon, May 22. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Seniors picked up their caps, gowns and awards May 15-16. The lower parking lot of the school was full of cars for the weekly “Be the Light” stadium lighting event May 18. Free milkshakes and root beer floats were offered to seniors during a Tiger Tuesday event on May 19 at the A&W in Iron River, paid for with school activity funds. Students stopped by the school to return textbooks and laptops Thursday, May 21.

About 20 teachers and another dozen staff members attended the drive-thru diploma ceremony.

“You’re happy for them, yet it’s heartbreaking at the same time,” said Sheryl Kyle, administrative assistant. “It’s what we could do.”

The graduation ceremony, along with an NHS' virtual 2020 awards night and the school's spring band concerts, can all be viewed on the district's YouTube channel.