My son Del and I video taped graduation at the University of Puget Sound for ten or twelve years. Del ran camera while I looked for interested shots. We had a riser right in front of the clock at the grandstand. We taped in the rain. We taped in the hot sun. We taped on Mother’s Day. I heard President Susan Resneck Pierce’s speech to the students and parents so many times I could almost recite it myself. I even recorded my friend Denny Flannigan getting his honorary degree: Doctor of Laws. I enjoyed the students laughing and talking and joking around, but I didn’t enjoy any of the recordings as much as I enjoyed videotaping the virtual graduation for the Class of 2020 from Steilacoom High School.
Assistant Principal Katherine Redman called and asked Peg if we would be interested in videotaping a virtual graduation. Peg relayed the information to me and I responded with both questions and suggestions. We submitted a bid and a few days later we were committed to the project and the students.
Why the commitment from the school and staff? Assistant Principal Jacob Tyrrell, explained why the teachers and administrators were so concerned about this year’s graduation, “Graduation ceremonies represent the culmination of a lot of work, both for the graduates and their families. Our goal from the start of our school closure was to safely create a product that was as close to our traditional commencement as possible. I think, with a lot of help from our school community, we met that goal. I am thrilled that our graduates got to walk across the stage in their caps and gowns and have their moment in the spotlight. Judging from the smiles we saw from our families over the course of two days of filming, I’d say everyone enjoyed the experience. Although it took a lot of work to plan the logistics of an event of this size, our kids deserve it and I am glad that it worked out so well!”
Pierce County has a small video community. Although, I had never worked with Ken Witkoe before, Peg and I had met him over coffee when he ran for a position on the Lakewood City Council last year. We talked about the joys of video production. Ken is a certified Drone Pilot and owner of Expressed Image Productions. I enjoyed Ken’s easy going manner and his professionalism, which is always a nice combination and something Peg and I adhere to. Ken manned Camera #1. Wanting to keep family involved, Peg and I enlisted son Del’s daughter, Bella. Bella had been selling photographs of high school sports competitions, but that ceased with the pandemic. Bella is a junior at Franklin Pierce High School and may face the same problem of social distancing during her senior year, which could affect graduation. The first day of production, Bella was our “gofer” (a person who runs errands, especially on a movie or video production set). The second day she helped with the logistics of getting the students on stage quickly and at the right time. She has an easy manner and is a hard worker . . . ideal for video production work.
We used Camera #2 as a locked-down back-up. This came in handy when Camera #1 failed on one scene (possible electrical interference) late in the shoot. I edited the production, but did on-location shooting with Camera #3 (hand-held) as well. While shooting footage at U.P.S., the student themselves created the spark and joy of a live graduation. I used the hand-held for recording the last few seconds of some of the students. This gave us little dance moves, mugging on-camera and even the traditional tossing of the caps into the air (singly). The video starts with a student production of images showing their next step in life. The video ends with the students relaxing after picking up their diplomas. I used current music to accompany the student production and our ending student shots.
James Jarnagin – Senior Class Adviser announced each graduate. He helped put students at their ease. My favorite moments of the production were all student related. I got the biggest kick from one student who turned, diploma in hand surveyed the crowded auditorium on camera pointing to his buddies, waving at various people in their seats and then pointing to his mom in the back of the room. In reality, she was the only person there. There was no audience, but he made us feel like he was sharing the moment with others. I had to laugh. Another memory which keeps surfacing in my mind happened while I was checking Camera #2. There was a small gathering behind me about ten feet away. Normally, families were led up to the back row of the hall, but when older people or those with canes, etc. were involved they were permitted to watch from the main floor. When the grandson was introduced and picked up his diploma, I heard his grandmother whisper, “Thank you, Jesus.” Believe me as a father I had felt that way with our own children, also.
The graduation was very well organized and protected everyone. The large parking lot had cars lined up in order. Each car contained family and student. On cue, they left their car. The student would enter the hallway and go through the backstage door, while the family continued on down the hall and into the auditorium, and then up the top of the seating area, sometimes with balloons and sometimes noise makers. The student would be introduced by Senior Class Adviser James Jarnagin and the student would walk forward on stage to the a table filled with diplomas. They would choose one, face the audience, change their tassel, and then continue across the stage and down the stairs to the seating area and out to the hallway where they would have their official photograph taken and then I videotaped a short segment. The parents were led from the auditorium to the hallway and then out. I taped for a while and then checked equipment. The students looked happy and the parents looked pleased. I don’t know how many times I was thanked for making the graduation happen. Wearing a mask we all looked the same.
Katherine Redman shared, “We are so thankful that we were able to put on a ceremony to celebrate the hard work of our seniors. We know how hard our students worked and it was important for their families to see them walk across the stage. While this is definitely not the graduation that most had envisioned, we are so proud of the class of 2020 and all that they have accomplished. They will definitely be a class to remember.”
The video is a two-parter and runs just under two hours total. Speakers at the graduation were given copies of the video production, while the graduation video is available on the Steilacoom High School Youtube channel.
Here are a few of the comments from the YouTube page:
“Ceremony was really well done.”
“They did a really great job putting it together.”
“This is the best online production of graduation I have seen. Way to go, Steilacoom!”
I felt sorry for the staff. They stood (spaced out) on stage and welcomed each senior who took part in the ceremony. As the two days wore on, but I could see their feet and knees had to be hurting, but still they greeted each graduate, smiled and applauded. When the last student left the stage and disappeared into the hall, Katherine Redman half laid down on the table in fake collapse, I have it on video, but it’s not in the final production. Everyone involved from Steilacoom High School deserved a solid round of applause and a pat on the back. Job well done.
Joy radiated from the faces of students and families, as they got to take their final walk across the stage. While it wasn’t what was originally planned back in September, 2019, it was a great way to celebrate the accomplishments of the class of 2020.