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Alaska Life

Kotzebue high school graduates get a parade after pandemic postpones commencement

  • Author: Emily Mesner
  • Updated: May 6
  • Published May 4

Kyleigha Wilson, left, Keira Jones, center, and Qyanna Wilson sit on a vehicle decorated for the senior graduation parade in Kotzebue on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)

KOTZEBUE -- The squawks and croons of newly returned sea gulls were drowned out by “Pomp and Circumstance” during an unusually loud and cheerful Saturday afternoon in the otherwise quiet reality of the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to social distancing mandates and a “hunker down” order, the Kotzebue Middle / High School graduation ceremony was postponed until fall. This year, graduating seniors celebrated a little differently and rode on four-wheelers and in the beds of decorated trucks to take part in a senior parade.

Jessica Dublin waves to community members with her nephew, Adam Madison, during the Kotzebue senior graduation parade on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)
Kaesyn Hill waits in the bed of a decorated truck for the Kotzebue senior graduation parade to begin on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)

Large “2020” balloons reflected the sunlight while the wind rustled yellow and blue tassels attached to bright blue graduation caps. Cheers from friends and family were heard along nearly every part of the route as celebratory sirens sounded from the sidewalk.

Snow and ice have begun to melt and migratory birds are starting to return. But due to COVID-19, the shift from winter to spring has been met with an unfamiliar quiet around town. The parade livened up Kotzebue’s streets for an hour or so, traveling down Third Avenue, along Sikaagruk Shore Avenue, and eventually past Maniilaq Health Center’s elder care unit.

Kaya Dublin, left, and Stella Hensley, right, hold signs for Kotzebue High School senior Jessica Dublin as the senior graduation parade travels north on Third Avenue in Kotzebue on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)

Parade organizer Jade Hill got permission from the Northwest Arctic Borough’s Incident Management Team and the city of Kotzebue to ensure the parade was held in accordance with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services social distancing and graduation guidelines. KOTZ, the local radio station, played “Pomp and Circumstance” on loop for 30 minutes so vehicles could tune in as the seniors rode in the parade.

“(That was) a nice little touch,” Hill said.

Kaiden Conwell takes photographs while waiting in the bed of a truck before the start of the senior graduation parade in Kotzebue on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)

“That was really cool and good of you for putting that together,” John Chase said as he rode by Hill after the parade. “It was for the kids,” Hill responded, making sure the attention stayed on the seniors.

Kotzebue High School seniors stand in the beds of decorated trucks and wave to residents gathered along Third Avenue during a senior graduation parade in Kotzebue on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)
Cindy Fields, middle, and Wanda Baltazar, right, film and cheer on Kotzebue's graduating high school seniors during a senior graduation parade in Kotzebue on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)
Robert ’Bobby ’ Allen, a Kotzebue High School senior, rides a four-wheeler in the Kotzebue senior graduation parade on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)
A woman watches the Kotzebue senior graduation parade travel north on Third Avenue as sirens from fire trucks and ambulances sound next to her in celebration on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)
Brian Stalker waves to friends and family on Sikaagruk Shore Avenue as he passes by during the senior graduation parade in Kotzebue on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)
Laura Fields, a Mt. Edgecumbe High School senior, rides in the back of a vehicle and waves to friends and family during a Kotzebue senior graduation parade on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Photo by Emily Mesner)
Kotzebue High School seniors stand in the beds of decorated trucks and wave to community members gathered along Third Avenue during a senior graduation parade in Kotzebue on Saturday, May 2, 2020. The parade was created to celebrate and honor the seniors whose graduation ceremony, scheduled for May 2, was cancelled due to social distancing mandates related to COVID-19. (Photo by Emily Mesner)

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