Route mapped out for Willmar Public Schools' graduate parade May 31

Graduating seniors from Willmar's Senior High School and Area Learning Center will participate in a car parade Sunday to celebrate their graduation. At least 200 graduates are expected to join the parade.

Willmar Graduation Parade Map (1).jpg

WILLMAR — It may be the longest parade in Willmar history, if not in duration at least in length.

Since they can’t have a traditional graduation ceremony because of the pandemic, Willmar Public Schools will be honoring its 2020 graduates from Willmar Senior High and the Area Learning Center with a car parade through the city May 31.

The two schools have a total of about 260 graduates. Senior High Principal Paul Schmitz said he expects at least 200 of them to participate in the parade, each in a separate vehicle.

Graduation plans are limited by social distancing requirements, and area school districts have found a variety of ways to honor their seniors.

Some ideas that could work for smaller districts, like drive-in graduations in school parking lots, simply won’t work for a district the size of Willmar.


“We did the math of how big the space would be, and it physically wouldn’t be possible,” Schmitz said.

So a parade was the next option.

A virtual graduation, including short videos submitted by a majority of the graduates, will begin showing on the school district’s website,, at noon Sunday.

But school officials decided that wouldn’t be enough, Schmitz said.

“We wanted the kids to be able to physically do something, and not have it just be passive like watching a video or participating in a video,” he said. “We’ve all had enough of that.”

Graduates will gather at the Senior High parking lot at 2:30 p.m., and the parade is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

“It will be a little chaotic, getting everybody lined up,” Schmitz said, smiling, “but we have a good plan in place.”

The parade will be led by vehicles from the Willmar Police Department, National Guard Armory and Fire Department moving at 5 mph.


Grand marshal will be Nick Clasemann, principal of the Area Learning Center. Mayor Marv Calvin and state Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, will also participate.

Live commentary from Schmitz, teacher Matt Williams and Todd Bergeth will be broadcast on radio station KWLM and the district’s website beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday.

“We’re going to do our best to get all the students’ names called,” Schmitz said. “We know it might be a challenge but we’ll try.”

City officials have been cooperative and willing to help in obtaining a parade permit and setting a route, Schmitz said.

Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt said they needed to find a parade route that would be manageable for law enforcement and allow spectators to watch and wave. Roadside parking will be allowed along most of the route.

The Police Department will have 10 to 12 people dedicated to the parade, he said. Some of the hours will be covered through rescheduling, and the school will pay for some overtime.

The district pays for police presence at events like football games and traditional graduations. “It’s not a big change from what they would normally do,” Felt said.

“I think it will be a nice event and a good send-off for those seniors,” he added.


The parade will move from the Senior High parking lot along Civic Center Drive and Business Highway 71 to Litchfield Avenue. The route follows U.S. Highway 12 to Seventh Street Southwest and follows Seventh Street to Kennedy Elementary School. Emergency vehicles will stop in the Kennedy parking lot with lights and sirens continuing until all the students have passed by.

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: or phone 320-214-4340
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