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Warren class of 2020 set for dam-style graduation

Times Observer file photo Kinzua Dam will be the site of the Warren Area High School graduation ceremony Friday evening. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials are calling it the Best Dam Graduation Ever.

This year’s seniors have missed out on a lot, but the Warren Area High School Class of 2020 is going to have the Best Dam Graduation Ever.

“Even though our students won’t have a normal graduation, a plan has been developed that is unique,” Principal Jeff Flickner said. “The students will have some long lasting memories from the historic graduation motorcade which ends with the students receiving their diploma covers on the Kinzua Dam.”

“The Warren Area High School’s Class of 2020 will drive, not walk, across a dam stage Friday, June 5, at 5:30 p.m. as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District hosts the pandemic-inspired commencement at Kinzua Dam,” according to a Tuesday Corps of Engineers release.

“Instead of walking across a stage, they will drive across the dam,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District Spokesperson Carol Vernon said. “We’re calling it the best dam graduation of 2020.”

“I think it’s exciting,” Vernon said. “We are part of the community. This way, we really get to be a part of the community and a lasting part of these high school graduates’ memories of what COVID was like.”

“So many graduates around the world had to forego their graduation ceremonies because of COVID.” she said. “I’m really excited that the Army Corps is having this opportunity.”

There were technical issues, but there was little question the event would happen once it was proposed.

“As soon as the Superintendent (Amy Stewart) pitched this to our commander, Col. (Andrew) Short, he loved it.

Short is currently deployed. “He contacted us and said, ‘I can’t be there, but I want this to happen,'” Vernon said. “He was very excited about it.”

“These circumstances have been difficult for everyone involved,” Maj. Scott Darhower, acting commander, Pittsburgh District, said. “The district is honored to be part of this momentous occasion for the students. It’s great to be part of the memories created.”

The event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The motorcade will process down Pennsylvania Avenue through Warren to Hemlock Road.

“Family and friends are encouraged to show their support to the WAHS Class of 2020 as they travel on Pennsylvania Avenue towards the dam while abiding by appropriate social distancing measures,” according to the release.

“Due to the narrow nature of the route, onlookers are asked to refrain from parking or traveling on Hemlock Road during the event.”

At the end of Hemlock, the motorcade will turn onto the dam.

A distance will be maintained between vehicles.

Near the Route 59 end of the dam, graduates will receive their diplomas then have a photo opp.

“They are going to get to get out of the car, take their shot with their diploma, and cap and gown, and the downstream river in the background,” Vernon said.

Students and families will be able to keep those images, as well as videos prepared for the seniors.

The school’s virtual baccalaureate is posted on the Warren Area High School Facebook page.

“The Virtual Graduation Ceremony will be aired at 8 p.m. Friday, June 5,” Flickner said. “A link to the Virtual Graduation Ceremony will be on the WAHS school website and the Official WAHS Facebook page. Each student will also be given a DVD of the Virtual Graduation.”

“There has been a lot of behind the scenes work to make the Motorcade Graduation across the Kinzua Dam possible,” he said.

He expressed the thanks of the Warren Area High School administration, faculty, staff, and students to

Warren County Sheriff’s Office, City of Warren Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police, Warren County Commissioners, Warren County Emergency Management Department, and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson.

“Superintendent Amy Stewart and the Warren County School District Board have shown tremendous leadership and support through these difficult times,” Flickner said.

“We thank the Corps for graciously hosting this event and helping to organize the proceedings,” Stewart said. “The opportunity to cross the Kinzua Dam – a first for Warren County graduates – is a gesture for which the Warren County School District Board of School Directors and administration offer their sincere appreciation. It is our hope that this event serves as a unique and memorable experience for students and their families.”

“Kinzua Dam was built to support the Warren community and withhold the strength of water,” Maj. Darhower said. “We celebrate the community and the strength of the students. It’s exciting to consider the potential they have to impact our nation. We offer our congratulations to graduates and celebrate their great achievements.”

“How many times will you ever get to drive across one of our dams?” Vernon said. “They’re going to have an opportunity to take pictures with the backdrop of the downstream river.”

“It’s going to be a very exciting and memorable experience for these high school graduates and for us,” she said. “These pictures will be placed in a place on honor in the district.”

“In the climate of what has been happening, something like this, something exciting, needs to happen,” Vernon said. “The nation is hurting. Something like this can help to show the world a bit of a brighter side, a little bit of hope.”

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