PENDLETON — With fire engine lights flashing, chairs set 6 feet apart, a red carpet and dozens of balloons, the parking lot behind the Pendleton Walmart was more festive than usual on Friday, May 30, as several employees donned caps, gowns and masks.
The graduation was a celebration for the store's 11 high school and college employees as a part of the Class of 2020. With the absence of conventional commencement ceremonies, store manager Shawna Nulf said the graduation ceremony was her way of recognizing the hard work that her employees had put into their schooling.
"With graduation the way it is this year, we decided to make it as special as possible," she said.
While the ceremony was brief, graduates had the chance to be recognized in front of family and several co-workers as they walked down the aisle to receive a gift basket and "diploma." The graduating class included students from Pilot Rock High School, Pendleton High School, Lewis-Clark State College, Blue Mountain Community College and one GED recipient.
Pendleton's Allison Mulcare recently graduated from Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, where she received a degree in education. Mulcare said that for the last year she has been student teaching, a position that came to an end when schools closed due to COVID-19.
"It was really hard to switch to online schooling," she said. "I found it difficult not getting closure with all of my students."
After the closure of schools and the movement of her classes online, Mulcare moved back to Pendleton to finish out the school year and begin her hunt for a job in education. On top of the lack of closure with students, Mulcare said the university had a virtual graduation that left her feeling as though her education experience was unfinished, one reason she said she particularly enjoyed the Walmart graduation.
"With many of us not getting closure, it's great that we get this form of closure on that chapter of our lives," she said.
While Mulcare said that she still would have liked a conventional graduation ceremony, she praised the staff that helped put together the small ceremony and said it was likely the closest thing to a conventional graduation many of them would get this year.
"I really really thank them for all of their support," she said.
Pilot Rock Police Officer Daniel Badal delivered a selection of “words of wisdom” to graduates as they move into the next chapter of their life. Badal congratulated graduates and encouraged them to apply themselves in their future endeavors.
“This is going to be a big step for you guys,” he said during his speech.
Pendleton High School student Mark Yarbrough was among those taking part in the ceremony. The graduating senior said that the event offered recognition for graduates and was more conventional than the drive-thru ceremony the school hosted on Saturday, May 30.
"It's an awesome opportunity for employers to recognize us like this," he said. "It means a lot for us to get a feel for a somewhat real graduation."