Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

One Minnesota family’s emotional story: Graduating during COVID-19 May 20, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2016.


FOR WEEKS, WE’VE HEARD and read news stories about the Class of 2020 and the disappointment students feel in missing out on so much of their senior year due to COVID-19. It is the tradition of the graduation ceremony, complete with caps, gowns, speeches and “Pomp and Circumstance,” that seems the greatest loss. And the gathering of family and friends afterward to celebrate.


Graduates toss their caps following a past graduation ceremony at Faribault High School. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


All of that said, schools are getting creative with their celebrations. Faribault High School is planning a Graduation Drive Thru to award diplomas. That includes inviting students, over the next two weeks, to walk across an outdoor stage and pose for photos with cut-outs of the school superintendent, principal and others. This will be pulled together in a video for a virtual graduation ceremony.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School graduation in 2010.


Down in the extreme southwestern corner of Minnesota, Worthington High School is also planning a virtual graduation ceremony followed by a car parade. One vehicle per graduate and family. Rural Nobles County is among the hardest hit in our state by COVID-19 following a virus outbreak in a meat-packing plant. In a county of just under 22,000, there have been 1,394 confirmed cases of the virus (as of Tuesday).

But this isn’t just another list of statistics. My friend Gretchen and her family live in Worthington. And eldest daughter, Katie, graduates this month as valedictorian of the WHS Class of 2020. She is heartbroken. Her mom also feels the emotional let-down of this long-anticipated day.

Gretchen is also an exceptional writer. When I asked her to write about graduation for the blogging ministry I lead at Warner Press, she quickly agreed. The result is a powerful post that tells her family’s story with uncut, raw emotion. I invite you to click here and read through the pain, the disappointment and then, the words of a high school grad wise beyond her years. I promise, you will feel moved by this family’s story. A story that personalizes the challenges for the Class of 2020 in a way you will remember.


A Tufts University graduate decorated her graduation hat in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. There will be no high school or college graduation ceremonies like these this year.


I encourage you to leave a comment for Katie and Gretchen on the Warner Press blog post or on the Warner Press Facebook page in addition to here. I am grateful to my friend and her daughter for sharing their thoughts. It is stories like theirs that reveal how COVID-19 is affecting the Class of 2020 in a deeply heart-wrenching way.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


13 Responses to “One Minnesota family’s emotional story: Graduating during COVID-19”

  1. It is such a disappointing time for so many right now — graduations, weddings, funerals even are changed in ways that no one imagined. In our effort to be safe and protect others we have to endure some disappointment and changes just as many have in generations before us. I am trying to understand that our new normal is going to look different until there is a vaccine available and that is hard to imagine. Will definitely pop over to read the article. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Beautiful Gretchen – thanks so much for sharing and to Katie Congrats to being Valedictorian and a Graduate of 2020. Love your positive mindset because that creates a healthy being, especially during this difficult time 🙂 Here’s to Adventures and Journeying Along Class of 2020 – Cannot Wait to See What You Take On and Do Next!!! Yes, traditions have been broken, however; it is a time for you to shine in making a path that works for each and everyone of you at this time. Remember your parents, family and friends are rallying behind you to make this super special for you as a graduating senior and supporting you as you stretch your wings or even leave the nest come fall. Wishing the Best – Good Luck – Congrats (((((((((clap, clap, clap)))))))))

  3. Ruth Says:

    Just yesterday I photographed a U Penn graduate with his family on their front porch. One of the photos they all sported masks. Certainly what one envisioned when dreaming of a prestigious graduation ceremony.
    This is a timely post. So many are affected. One of my young knitting friends is a brand new mother. We wrote a poem together about why she is mad at COVID. Good to read your post today Audrey. Memorable and historic, Shared by thousands.

  4. valeriebollinger Says:

    What a wonderful story…Katie will go far with her amazing attitude.

    It really is sad that the graduation ceremonies, and so much more, cannot go on as planned but there have been some creative ways to make these benchmarks special.

  5. norma Says:

    My youngest grand daughter is getting her degree from Kansas Wesleyan University, but will miss out on any commencement activities. After working hard, these college grads will not know the joy of the actual celebration.

    • Congratulations to your granddaughter! I’m sorry she won’t have that celebration.

      Interestingly enough, when I graduated from college in March 1978, I didn’t return for the commencement ceremony in the spring. I was already working and just thankful to be done with school. I didn’t feel the need to walk through the program.

  6. Missy’s Crafty Mess/Missy’s Handarbeid Says:

    Oh Congratulations 🎊 this is something that you will remember for the rest of your life and while it might be heartbreaking now it will give you something to talk about in the future. This too shall pass. The class of 2020 is our future

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.