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We did it!

New graduates celebrate at the end of the commencement program last May 22 at Florence High School.

FLORENCE — Senior classes in Florence Unified School District’s three high schools will all graduate on May 21 with attendance limited to two people per graduate, according to a plan approved by the district school board Tuesday.

Everyone will be asked to wear masks. The graduates won’t receive the customary handshakes. The band won’t be there to play Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” but there will be speeches and fireworks. Afterward, family members won’t be allowed onto the field to celebrate.

“Is it a traditional graduation? No it’s not. But I think it’s something where our seniors can come up, walk across the stage and get recognized,” Superintendent Chris Knutsen said Tuesday to board members meeting over the phone.

Knutsen stressed the ceremony is voluntary, not mandatory for graduates to receive their diplomas. For seniors who opt not to attend, the ceremony will be streamed online, their pictures will be seen on the screen and their names will be called.

“It’s an option I feel like if we do it safely, we can end the year for our seniors on a positive note, to finish out their high school careers,” Knutsen said.

Seniors will receive their two tickets on senior check-out day.

If for some reason FUSD can’t carry out these plans, the other option will be drive-in ceremonies on Tuesday at Florence’s Heritage Park for San Tan Foothills; on Wednesday for Florence High; and May 21 for Poston Butte.

Board President Denise Guenther noted Poston Butte will graduate 340 students, with 680 family members in a stadium that seats 1,600, “so I think that we can safely say that is social distancing.”

Knutsen agreed. “We do have enough space to safely distance everybody. I think we can get it done with this plan.”

He said 63% of people who responded to a survey said the schools should have an in-person graduation ceremony if possible. There was also the suggestion of delaying it until June, but unless an indoor arena were available, it would be too hot, the superintendent said.

Knutsen said some schools are doing virtual graduations and others are canceling graduation altogether.

Knutsen told the board he spoke with several state and local officials about the district’s graduation plans, including the Governor’s Office, Arizona Schools Risk Retention Trust, members of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, Pinal County Attorney’s and Sheriff’s offices and the Florence chief of police, fire chief and town manager.

“I think it’s the best-case scenario,” he said. “I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from our seniors. They’re very thankful that we held out hope that we could have an in-person graduation.”


Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at