For the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Central Washington University will hold in-person graduation ceremonies on campus Saturday.
This is a big deal — for the students, their families and the community.
CWU graduation can be an adventure, but it is one most students choose to participate in after four (more or less) years of grinding through college coursework. The adventure element is provided by the elements. Early June weather in the Kittitas Valley is a wildcard, but the smart money never bets against the wind.
It’s hard to think of an ensemble less suitable to withstand gale-force winds than billowing gowns and funky hats not designed to stay on heads. But that is as much a part of the CWU/Ellensburg experience as it is to sit at four-way stops while Ellensburg residents contemplate their existence.
As these students make the walk to Tomlinson Stadium during the two ceremonies Saturday there will be smiles, laughter, skipping and many hands clasped firmly to keep the hat on their heads.
One of the neat things about CWU is the large percentage of its students who are the first members of their families to attend college. For those families, graduation is a celebration of not just the accomplishments of one family member but of generations of family members who all strove to give better opportunities to their children and their children’s children.
For the community, graduation serves many purposes. It may be weird to think of graduation as a tourist event, but it draws a significant number of people to the community (and its hotels, restaurants, etc.) for a weekend. Not having campus graduation ceremonies the past couple of years was just one of the many economic body blows the community endured during COVID.
Graduation also signals the main seasonal change in Ellensburg — from CWU in session to CWU out of session. The city loses about half its residents and it does alter what it feels like to live in Ellensburg.
For most Ellensburg residents the only thing welcomed more than the end of the spring quarter is the start of the fall quarter when we are eager to have all the energy of young people back in town.
COVID hit all universities hard and Central is no exception. The years of steady student population growth ended with the pandemic. For a university whose main draw is its campus community life — a chance for West Side students to go “away” for school without going that far — the shift to remote and online learning is not Central’s forte.
This coming year will be critical to determine how the university will adjust.
Before that happens though the university needs to celebrate the students who stuck with CWU through COVID and all that entailed.
It’s great that these students will be able to celebrate their accomplishments in Ellensburg.