As Hermiston High School seniors lined up in their bright purple graduation robes for a class photo on Thursday, May 27, strong winds whipped through the group, sending some students scrambling for caps or tassels caught in the breeze.

The windy weather was less than ideal for an outdoor event, but if there is one thing the Class of 2021 knows, it is persevering in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Francisco Dinis said he was glad to be graduating after a challenging year. Like his classmates, he had his junior year ended abruptly during the initial COVID-19 shutdowns of March 2020, and when he returned in the fall for his senior year, it was for “comprehensive distance learning” from home for the first semester, before eventually transitioning to hybrid learning in the spring.

“It was hard,” he said of distance learning. “Most of my classes I was failing, but once we got back in person I did better.”

Despite the tough year, he was able to line up with the rest of his class for the May 27 Honor Walk, a new tradition started the previous year to celebrate graduating seniors in the week before graduation. Students crowded together for a class photo on Kennison Field before heading out for a parade of sorts around the school. Friends, family and other community members cheered them on, sometime holding signs or throwing candy, as they walked down the street in their caps and gowns, led by the marching band.

After graduation, Dinis said he plans to move to California to attend a junior college there.

With Dinis was PricillaMarie Lang, who is planning to pursue a nursing degree at Blue Mountain Community College. She said she was looking forward to spending more time with her family this summer once she was done with classes.

She said this year it was hard to miss cheerleading, participating in Spirit Week and attending basketball and football games — all activities she loved before the pandemic. Some students actually did better online, because it was easier to manage social anxiety or other problems, she said. So she hopes that for those students, online learning will still be an option. But Lang disliked online learning and was glad to return to the classroom.

As students showed up for the class photo before the Honor Walk, they were invited to sign their name to a set of posters sitting on tables, with titles like “trade school” or “military,” to let people know what their plans were.

Roberto Gonzales plans to attend Blue Mountain Community College to study art before eventually transferring somewhere else to complete a bachelor’s degree in fine art.

He said during the the first semester it was harder to stay motivated and turn in work when his teachers weren’t in the room with him. He got to finish the year in person, though, and looks forward to what’s next.

“It’s exciting, but I’m very nervous,” he said of graduating.

The Honor Walk was a precursor to graduation, which will take place on Thursday, June 3.

Students will gather at 5:30 p.m. in the Purple Gym at Hermiston High School to hear speeches, which will also be livestreamed on the Hermiston School District website and HSD Communications YouTube channel.

After the speeches, students will be brought into the main commons area a few at a time to walk across the stage and receive a diploma, with six guests of their choice in attendance.

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