CHS brings pomp and circumstance online

100th CHS graduation ceremony carried out in YouTube broadcast

Cordova Jr./Sr. High School graduates toss their caps into the air. (May 16, 2020) Photo courtesy of Milo Burcham

Since schools closed in March, streaming video has been used to make online classes run quickly and conveniently. On Saturday, May 16, it was also used to build a sense of ceremony and significance for Cordova Jr./Sr. High School’s 100th graduating class. Seniors were able to cross the stage and receive their diplomas in an event broadcast on YouTube, followed by a procession in vehicles down First Street and to the school.

Cordova City Council granted Cordova School District approval to use the school building after viewing plans for the event submitted by the district. Videos of students accepting diplomas onstage were pre-recorded so that the entire class was not required to gather inside the school at one time. The event went well, all things considered, said Superintendent Alex Russin.

“It’s a celebration, not only for the students and the families of the graduates, but of their school as well, and the time and effort of the staff members who help students along their journey toward graduation,” Russin said. “It’s one of the bigger milestones of a student’s life. Many of them are turning 18 and are going to be venturing out from under the protective wing of their families and friends.”

Footage of students receiving their diplomas was part of an hour-long broadcast that included addresses by Principal Kate Williams; valedictorian William Deaton; salutatorian Ria Smyke; Michael Johnson, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development; Sen. Lisa Murkowki, R-Alaska; and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who spoke from the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Cordova Jr./Sr. High School salutatorian Ria Smyke is driven down First Street in a car also occupied by her mother, Anita Smyke, left, and her father, Dana Smyke, right. (May 16, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for all Alaskans, including the end of your school year and your graduation,” Murkowski said. “And, while this commencement ceremony is certainly not what you would have expected this special day would look like, I know that all of you will find ways to celebrate and share with your families and your community the pride and accomplishment of this significant goal.”

Cordova School District is ironing out plans to reopen in August, Russin said. The district is also taking part in a statewide working group of superintendents and other educational stakeholders to determine what class will look like after schools reopen, he said. The district plans to take a cautious approach when it comes to allowing greater access to school buildings, he said.


“We’re not in any hurry, necessarily,” Russin said.

The district’s Tuesday food distributions will continue throughout the summer, thanks to a waiver from the Department of Agriculture.