Owatonna High School seniors will have a parking lot commencement on Sunday, June 7 at the Federated Insurance Annexstad Building on the south side of town. Superintendent Jeff Elstad made the announcement during a virtual 'coffee and conversation' meeting Friday morning. OHS principal Kory Kath shared the plan with seniors and their parents on Friday afternoon. The event will be carried live on AM 1390 KRFO and the KRFO app and website.

Districts were given two options for commencement by the state: virtual or parking lot. "There was a survey sent out to all of our senior students...This ceremony is completely about our students. The adults are lucky enough to participate in it...Our seniors were very strongly in favor of doing an outdoor parking lot sort of ceremony."

The day will be a "graduation celebration day" according to Elstad. Students and their families can go to the Foundation Building on the Steele County Fairgrounds for a professional photo with their diploma. Elstad said the district got the blessing of local and state health officials.

At the ceremony, each graduate will be allowed one vehicle. There are about 320 members of the Owatonna High School Class of 2020 and about 400 parking stalls in the west lot at the Federated Insurance building. A stage will be set up with Kath and two students making speeches.

Students will remain in their vehicles when their names are called, but Elstad said honking horns will be encouraged. A similar graduation event will be held for the ALC students as well.

"We pushed the guidelines as far as we could go but still remain safe. We got the blessing of our local public health officials. We have pushed this past some folks with the Minnesota Department of Health to make sure we have the right sort of social distancing."

"I would tell you as a parent of a senior, it stinks. I wish we could do it so much differently. But I also know that we have to put safety first. I was having a conversation with my daughter Kaia who is a senior. We were lamenting, particularly last Friday to hear the final declaration around graduation."

"But I would also share you with, I said, 'You know. Commencement day is great and it certainly is memorable and are the pictures that we grab with that. But maybe 20 years from now, your graduation will be a lot more remarkable than mine was when I sat inside with all of my classmates.' Maybe there's a silver lining to this but our first priority will always be safety of our students and families."

Senior families will receive more detailed plans and instructions from the school.

Elstad said thanks to the groups partnering with OHS to make this happen. That includes law enforcement, Federated Insurance, media, and local restaurants. OwatonnaLive.com will present a stream of the service and will offer a copy of the ceremony for a small purchase price.