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No masks, no limits as Willmar Senior High will hold commencement Sunday at Willmar Civic Center

Seniors at Willmar Senior High School practiced Thursday for their upcoming graduation Sunday, June 6, when the school will hold its ceremony at the Willmar Civic Center, a first time at that location. There will be no mask mandate or limit on attendance at the 2 p.m. commencement. “It’s not by invitation only,” Principal Paul Schmitz said. “Come out and celebrate.”

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Seniors at Willmar Senior High School practice Thursday, June 3, 2021, at the Willmar Civic Center for their upcoming graduation. Traditionally conducted in the Big Red Gym, graduation this year will be at the Civic Center. Though there are no mask requirements and no restrictions on capacity any longer after the lifting of state pandemic orders, the Civic Center has more seating, a better sound system and air conditioning. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The Willmar Senior High School commencement Sunday will be mask-free with no limit placed on attendance at the Willmar Civic Center .

The 2 p.m. ceremony for the 265 graduates will be at the Civic Center, the first time it won’t be at the school since the Senior High opened in 1994.

“It’s always been in the Big Red Gym ,” Principal Paul Schmitz said this week, but it’s had its drawbacks.

Had there been a traditional graduation a year ago, it probably would have been at the Civic Center, he said. School and city officials had been discussing it.

The Civic Center has some advantages over the gym — more seating, a better sound system and, most important of all, air conditioning. The gym is not air-conditioned, and graduations at the high school have been hot and crowded.

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State pandemic orders limiting capacity and requiring masks at large gatherings to stem the spread of COVID-19 are no longer in effect, Schmitz said, so the graduation will be open to anyone.

“It’s not by invitation only,” Schmitz said. “Come out and celebrate.”

However, “if you want to be guaranteed a seat, you need to be there early, because we’re expecting a big crowd.”

The parking situation isn’t as good, though, Schmitz said, so guests should be prepared to walk some distance to the Civic Center.

Schmitz said he’s grateful that the seniors will be able to have a traditional graduation.

“It’s been a very disappointing couple of years,” especially for the seniors, he said on the last day of classes for them. “They’re trying to make the best of it.”

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After the last 14 months, “It will seem surreal to look up and see hundreds and hundreds of people in one place with no masks on,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to just being able to see kids’ faces again.”

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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