Photos courtesy of Amy Holscher
Photos courtesy of Amy Holscher

Some 240 Gaylord High School graduates had an uplifting ceremony after their senior year was cut short by the pandemic.

GAYLORD, MI — Gaylord High School may have just pulled off Michigan’s biggest alternative graduation event of the year.

From arranging an Adopt-a-Senior program to a virtual graduation watch at the drive-in, the Gaylord community has continuously rallied around their high school’s Class of 2020. 

But they outdid themselves when planning the peak of the grads’ celebrations: a ski lift ceremony in cap and gown, complete with a professional photographer, goodie bags and friends to catch up with. 

“The Gaylord High School class of 2020 is a special one,” said Amy Holscher, who teaches English at GHS. “Not because I teach there or my son is a member, and not because they’ve had to endure these difficult  circumstances. Actually, they are a special class despite the hardship with which they had to end their senior year. They are a bright, hard-working and loving class who truly care about one another.

“Instead of talking about adversity, I’d like to focus on community. The small town of Gaylord pulled out all the stops to provide memorable events for these seniors who could not have a traditional graduation. And while enjoying these events, the community of the class of 2020 enjoyed each other‘s company after months of being apart while facing a diverse future of different paths. The Class of 2020 sure is fortunate to have such awesome classmates and community!”

Sam Gorno and Regan Distel (Photo courtesy of Amy Holscher)

Graduation Night at the Drive-in

Class of 2020 salutatorian Maddie Mager said she felt honored to see the outpouring of support from her community when senior year was cut short by the COVID-19 outbreak.

She spoke on impermanence in her address to peers in a pre-recorded speech played during Gaylord High’s virtual graduation stream, which she said most people in her class watched together at the local fairgrounds. 

Parents arranged a meet-up at the fairgrounds, where they screened the school’s livestream. Graduates and their families watched from their cars while a pre-recorded Mager spoke:  

“When senior year came around, we were ready. We were ready for our last football game, our last homecoming dance, our last winter break, our last sporting event … But what we didn’t realize back in March was that we had already experienced some of our lasts without even knowing it. Our last day of school, last practice, last prom, last honors convocation … 

“My point is, things happen every day without us even knowing how special they are. We never know when something is going to be our last, so we need to appreciate all of the little things that happen every day, never take anything for granted, and live every day like it’s really, truly our last.” 

2020 Gaylord High School Virtual Graduation

2020 Gaylord High School Virtual Graduation

Posted by Gaylord Community Schools on Friday, May 29, 2020
You can hear Mager’s full speech in the 2020 Gaylord High School Virtual Graduation.

The Sky’s the Limit 

Local parent Denise Landrie captured the spirit of Mager’s speech when she helped GHS’ Class of 2020 celebrate their achievement to the fullest with an incredible ski lift ceremony. 

Landrie participated in Otsego County’s wildly popular “Otsego County Adopt A 2020 High School Senior” Facebook group, one of the first community efforts to support high school graduates through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She wanted to do more than lift the spirits of one or two adopted seniors with gift baskets or yard signs. 

Landrie spoke to 9&10 News about organizing the one-of-a-kind ski lift event at Treetops Resort for GHS seniors the day after their virtual graduation, saying it was so heartfelt, it gave her goosebumps. 

Graduates echo her sentiment. 

“You could tell everyone was just having fun,” said Maddie Mager. “It was really uplifting … All of it was extraordinary, because I felt so honored and special. I know I won’t forget it because it was so different.” 

Hope Bennethum, Reagan Olli, Sydney Kaiser and Darbi Dorr happy to be together again. (Photo courtesy of Amy Holscher)

As one may expect of a ski lift ceremony, it wasn’t all pomp and circumstance.

“I actually forgot to wear my cap and down, but this one was more laid back,” she said. “We rode to the top, then they called our names as we were getting off, and then there was a photographer that took our picture. And then we got a goodie bag — it had a shirt, a face mask, a pen, some stuff like that.” 

The 240-some graduates were mailed their diplomas a week prior. 

Gaylord isn’t done celebrating its grads just yet. Mager said GHS is planning an event for July that will allow the Class of 2020 to finally walk across the stage. 

“The school’s also planning a brick ceremony for July 31,” she said. “Basically it’s like the actual ceremony we were supposed to get. We’ll walk across the stage, but instead of getting a diploma, we’ll get a brick. It’s supposed to say something like ‘Senior,’ and I think they’re placing it on a pathway or wall to commemorate the 2020 seniors.” 

So while the pandemic will eventually cease, a small monument to the triumphs and tribulations of GHS’ Class of 2020 will remain. And the memories of their bodacious ski lift graduation will also stand the test of time.

Browse More Photos:

Darbi Dorr and Hope Bennethum (Photo courtesy of Amy Holscher)
The GHS grads soared to new heights thanks to the efforts of their community and teachers. (Photo courtesy of Amy Holscher)
Tyler Ashley and Kyler McKenzie (Photo courtesy of Amy Holscher)
Gabe Kleinsorge and Jack Holscher (Photo courtesy of Amy Holscher)