Across The Dam
The Warren Area High School Class of 2020 followed up a unique school year with a unique graduation ceremony.
The graduates processed in vehicles across the top of Kinzua Dam.
Near the mid-point, each graduate got out of their vehicle, received their diploma cover from Principal Jeff Flickner, and posed for a once-in-a-lifetime photo.
Close to 170 vehicles, many decorated in celebration, crossed the dam.
Some bore the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ theme for the event — Best Dam Graduation 2020.
It was a major life event at a time when those students could use one.
“It’s been tough,” Mariah Bailey said of her senior year. “This has been extremely special. They made everybody feel included.”
“This is a great opportunity to help make up for what we feel like we missed out on,” Bailey said.
Asked how he felt about the school year and the event, Jarred Blauser said, “a little down over the fact that we haven’t had prom or a year-ending dance. But having graduation over the dam? That’s a new one.”
The special graduation improved the tumultuous school year. “I wouldn’t say 100 percent, but it makes up a little bit,” Blauser said.
That was the goal.
When a past graduate suggested the idea, Flickner ran with it.
“This is a high-profile way to end their high school careers that were essentially cut short,” Flickner said. “This is an exciting and unique way to have a graduation. They may have missed out on a lot, but they’re well equipped to move on.”
“This is a unique opportunity for our students,” school board President Donna Zariczny said. “It gives them a sense of accomplishment and closure. They need something to mark the end of their high school years.”
School officials couldn’t make the event happen on their own.
“I can’t stress enough all the cooperation with so many different organizations,” Flickner said.
Col. Andrew Short, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District was on board from the beginning.
But, he didn’t expect to be able to attend. He was deployed, working on a high-profile engineering project in Arizona.
Short was on the dam greeting the families and graduates on Friday. He repeatedly told the story of how he got there. Until Thursday, Short was in Arizona overseeing the construction of part of the border wall in Arizona. His commanding officer heard about the event at Kinzua Dam and asked if he would be attending.
When he said he didn’t think so, his commander made it happen.
Congressman Glenn GT Thompson also attended the event. He congratulated each senior individually.
“The school year ended in a pretty extraordinary way,” Thompson said. “This graduation is just a wonderful idea. I really appreciate the school district putting for the effort to make this happen and the cooperation of the Corps of Engineers.”
There was no lack of enthusiasm from Corps officials. Spokesperson Carol Vernon said, “This is the coolest thing that the district has gotten to be involved in in a long time.”
The event was just the ticket for graduate Jared Bupp. “I feel awesome,” he said. “Thanking God for the opportunity to do this. Glad we got to do this instead of something virtual.”
Asked if it helped make up for some of the losses, he said, “100 percent. It makes up for it all.”