A proper sendoff: GCHS seniors honored before departing to serve in armed forces

Grundy Center High School seniors Jesse Mackie (left photo) and Sean Woodman (right photo) were honored during a special ceremony outside of the high school last Friday. Both are entering the military. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photos)
Robert Maharry
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY CENTER- Due to circumstances beyond their control, Jesse Mackie and Sean Woodman won’t be able to celebrate graduation with the rest of their classmates at the rescheduled commencement in June. But the two Grundy Center High School graduates and military recruits got a sendoff they’ll never forget last Friday afternoon.


“We just trusted that (the administration) would come up with a good idea, and we just went with it,” Mackie said.


The two students participated in an unconventional graduation in a manner that fit guidelines for safe social distancing policies. It was an outside event, and took place just in front of the front entrance to the high school where two tables were set up, one for each student and manned by a member of their chosen branch of the United States Armed Forces—for Mackie, the Marine Corps, and for Woodman, the Air Force.


“It’s just nice to be able to have kind of a similar experience to what it used to look like,” Woodman said. “It was just kind of a nice surprise. Not a whole lot of notice, but it was enough to get everything together.”


Woodman enlisted on the day of his 17th birthday and has been looking forward to the day he’d ship off to basic training, and he plans to specialize in aircraft maintenance and stay in the Air Force until he reaches retirement age.


Mackie, who played a key role on the Spartan football team that came within a touchdown of winning the state title last fall, reflected on a rollercoaster ride of a senior year that included both highs and lows. He was also looking forward to track and field, and, as one of only two seniors on the team (along with Jensen Clapp), he hoped to lead the Spartans to a third straight district title.


“With these circumstances, we kind of just had to call it off, and we were kind of bummed,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot returning, which is really good.”


On Tuesday, Mackie headed south to San Diego after his basic date was moved up by two months, and he said that he had been considering military service for a while but “fell in love” with the Marine Corps. He also plans to do 20 years and is currently signed on to serve in the infantry with hopes of eventually transferring to special forces.


Each young man took his turn, making their way down the long sidewalk that connects the front doors to the parking lot dressed in their cap and gown, while “Pomp and Circumstance” played to accompany their stride. When they reached the center, they spoke with GCHS principal Michael Vokes who presented them with their diploma, and gave encouraging words for their transition into their new journey.


Then, students and spectators alike were welcomed to the parking lot to watch the high school drum line perform, from the safety of their cars. People called to the drum line, and even honked along in good cheer at various points in their performance.


Ceremonies like this have become commonplace across the world, as health guidelines have forced many education officials to become creative in their presentations of graduating students, while still honoring them for their deeds.


“On Monday, we saw one of our military grads got their departure moved up 10 days,” Vokes said. “So, with all that’s going on with [the pandemic], and having to postpone a graduation ceremony for everyone, we figured that, at the very least, we wanted to acknowledge these two and give them what we could as far as a graduation service goes.”


“We met together with senior advisors,” Vokes continued, “and planned what we had to do in the four or five days that we had to put it together.”


The graduation ceremony for the remainder of the student body is slated to take place June 20, and will be in a similar vein to the outside service for Mackie and Woodman. And while these two young men may not be in attendance physically, they’ll carry the memory of their senior year and their community with them wherever they go.


“The biggest thing about Grundy is that they’re loyal to their classmates, and if someone can’t be there, then they’ll do something for them,” Woodman said. “Even with this, it’s two people, and they got a whole community together just for those two.”


Mackie echoed a similar sentiment in looking back on his high school years.


“The thing that I’ll remember most is that a small town really can come together,” he said. “I know most of the people in Grundy Center, and it’s kind of nice to have them come and see me through football and all my sports, and even now with my graduation. Even though it’s two of us, they’ve always been with us for our entire Grundy Center career, and I’m excited to move on.”


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