School for the Deaf shakes up tradition with parade

By Andrew Tucker, Lake Geneva Regional News

With an inspirational message painted across the side, and balloons along the top, a festive van June 8 pulls through the Wisconsin School for the Deaf parking lot during the graduation parade.

DELAVAN — As the school year came to a close, administrators at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf were looking for a way to brighten the mood for nine graduating seniors.

So they turned to a festive parade to honor their graduates and raise the community’s spirits.

While all schools have faced troubles with adapting to the quirks of online learning forced by the coronavirus, the Wisconsin School for the Deaf was particularly hard hit. Without the aid of in-person body language cues, communicating in American Sign Language is more difficult, and that added challenge made the end of the 2019-2020 school year a rocky one.

With the school’s typical graduation ceremony cancelled, a number of traditions to celebrate the end of the students’ high school careers seemed to be in jeopardy. Chief among them was the procession of teachers that kicks off the ceremony and gives the educators a chance to congratulate the students.

The Wisconsin School for the Deaf graduation parade June 8 was not just for four-wheeled vehicles, as one scooter rider proves during the unusual celebration,

However, principal Brian Lievens did not want the lack of those well wishes to impact the students’ graduation experience.

“It matters a lot to me that we as staff show our seniors that we care about them and wish them the best,” Lievens said.

So, the staff decided to do the next best thing: hop in their cars and record their motorcade.

With balloons, streamers and posters adorning the vehicles, the Wisconsin School for the Deaf community June 8 drove through the streets and parking lots surrounding the building. With a camera recording the entire event, the parade will kick off a virtual graduation ceremony on June 12, just as the in-person processional typically does.

“The Wisconsin School for the Deaf has a beautiful history of traditions,” teacher Karla Gunn said. “The car processional was a perfect way to try to maintain this tradition.”

A truck with posters and a Wisconsin School for the Deaf decal drives past the front of the school June 8 during a graduation parade videotaped for graduates to enjoy watching later.

While the school had never put on an event quite like this one, the teachers were excited to do what they could to try to help the graduates feel that their high school careers were ending on a high note.

“In my seven years of working at WSD, we have never done something of this magnitude,” teacher Julie Russotto said. “However, in light of these unique circumstances, I was happy to hear another way to honor our seniors.”

Even though the deaf community has been hit hard by the isolation that social distancing can create, just by recording a parade of cars, the staff and students of the Wisconsin School for the Deaf will be together as one again to cap off the school year.

“We may not be able to be together in person,” school counselor Amy Dignan said. “But we can still be together through our school spirit.”