School board, administration chastised for not mentioning graduates not able to attend commencement

Mike Christopherson
Sue Wilkens speaks at Monday's Crookston School Board meeting.

The Crookston School Board and school district administration “took away the identities” of members of the CHS Class of 2020 who were unable to attend the rescheduled commencement ceremony in the high school gym on Saturday, July 25 and didn’t mention their names during the ceremony, which was attended by a scaled-back, socially distanced audience and livestreamed online.

That was the accusation leveled by Sue Wilkens to the school board, Superintendent Jeremy Olson and the administration at Monday evening’s board meeting at CHS.

There were 75 graduates listed in the commencement program, but 68 walked across the stage to get their diploma. Although Wilkens acknowledged the possibility that some of the seven not in attendance may not have met the academic requirements to earn their diploma, she said she knew of students among those seven who were simply not able to attend, including more than one currently away in military training. One graduate away in the military was able to get a special pass to watch the livestream of the ceremony, Wilkens said during the public form at the start of the meeting, and was “devastated” to not hear their name mentioned in the gymnasium.

Wilkens wondered how board members, Olson and the administration would feel if that happened to their child.

“An apology will never make it right,” she added.

Board Chair Frank Fee thanked Wilkens for her comments, and Wilkens subsequently exited the meeting.

It wasn’t until the closing comment portion near the meeting’s conclusion that Wilkens’ concerns were addressed.

“Her concern is valid,” said board member Mike Theis, who represented the board by handing out diplomas to the graduates crossing the stage on Saturday. “It’s OK to admit we fell short on this.”

A lot of planning went into the ceremony that had to be significantly modified to meet social distancing and mask-wearing mandates, Theis said, and it’s “No one’s fault that this was missed.”

Theis apologized on his own behalf and on behalf of the board.

“I don’t believe there was any ill will from anyone,” he said, adding that it won’t happen again. “We realize what a capstone moment graduation is. It’s OK if we do fall short on occasion. We’re human, we try our best, and it was a very fluid situation.”

Fee added that there was “maybe a shortcoming” in failing to acknowledge graduates not able to attend the ceremony. “It certainly wasn’t on purpose,” he said.

Fee went on to thank those who planned and coordinated the modified ceremony, and he singled out Robin Reitmeier for leading the effort. “Robin deserves a lot of credit; she really did a lot of work,” Fee said.