MOORHEAD, Minn. — It happens every year around this time: The mailbox starts filling up with graduation open house invitations from friends, family members and neighbors' children.

But not this year. Most of our mailboxes are pretty light on open house postcards. Instead of sending party invitations, many parents of high school seniors are still playing the waiting game. Should they stick with May or June graduation open houses or bite the bullet and just postpone now? Is it safe if it’s outdoors? Or should they roll the dice and hope that the end of summer will be better?

“I am a planner, so the uncertainty is a challenge for me,” says Stephanie Gess, mom to Cullen Gess, a Moorhead High School senior.

Moorhead High senior Cullen Gess had an open house scheduled for May 18th, but his mother Stephanie says they'll most likely end up rescheduling. Submitted photo
Moorhead High senior Cullen Gess had an open house scheduled for May 18th, but his mother Stephanie says they'll most likely end up rescheduling. Submitted photo

Cullen’s graduation open house is scheduled for mid-May at the Gess home. With the party just weeks away and COVID-19 still making news, Stephanie says she’s pretty sure they’ll have to reschedule.

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“It will still be at our house,” she says. “That is one thing that I’m thankful for. For those that had a venue as their spot, finding a date for this summer might be difficult.”

Gess says she’ll just have to make due with the invitations she already had printed.

“I actually printed the invitations in the middle of March. I knew at that time that the date might change, but I really needed to be able to cross something off my to-do list. I figured a quick insert with a new date will be easy to do.”

Cullen’s Moorhead High classmates, twins Lauren and Taylor Melton, are in the same boat. Their mother, Kim Melton, had invitations already printed for the girls’ open house, scheduled for May 31, at their home.

“We had them printed in February,” Melton says.

While Melton and Gess are waiting to send invitations, other parents are opting to send them out now with the hope the May party will go on as scheduled — but with a note directing invitees to check Facebook or Instagram for updates.

Some parents are choosing to send out graduation open house invitations with a  note about checking social media for possible changes in dates. Submitted photo.
Some parents are choosing to send out graduation open house invitations with a note about checking social media for possible changes in dates. Submitted photo.

Other parents are changing things up even more, morphing a planned graduation party to a going off to college party in late summer.

Jess Almlie, mom to Moorhead High senior Greta Almlie, says they made the decision to postpone Greta’s party to later in the summer if it meant more people could come.

“The further kids get from that high school graduation date, the more they want to look forward instead of back. It’s more exciting later in the summer to think about going to college than it is to think about leaving high school,” she says. “So, let’s build on that momentum. A college send-off party works for all those reasons.”

Other parents are facing additional concerns with their open houses. Venues that had been booked have now closed for good, leaving partygoers in search of a new spot. And some parents face conflicts with newly rescheduled events.

Kyle Richardson’s daughter, Kamden, graduates from West Fargo’s Sheyenne High School on May 31.

“We had reserved a spot near the school for a May 29 grad party,” Richardson says. “But now Sheyenne and West Fargo have scheduled a dual prom for that night, so I have no idea what I'm going to do.”

Unfortunately, experts still aren’t sure if we’ll be out of the woods in time for late May open houses? Most public health experts, at this point, are predicting cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to drop into May and June, but they say much of the pandemic timeline for the rest of 2020 depends on how well people follow shelter in place orders and social distancing guidelines now.

One of the factors affecting the decision to postpone or change graduation open houses is knowing if or when graduation ceremonies will happen at all. Most school districts are closely monitoring public health reports from their state and county health departments.

Parents are buying yard signs and hanging banners for their graduates, while websites and social media recognize them as well. Fargo South webpage
Parents are buying yard signs and hanging banners for their graduates, while websites and social media recognize them as well. Fargo South webpage

If nothing else, this year’s seniors are learning firsthand that things don’t always go as planned. And when they don’t, it becomes necessary to both roll with the punches and think outside the box.

The Meltons know that all too well, as their father, a recently retired colonel with the Army National Guard, was deployed four different times during their childhood.

“Due to their dad's past military deployments, they have shown great flexibility their entire lives and continue to do so now,” Melton says. “They understand the seriousness of what's going on in the world right now, and their senior year is just one example of the sacrifices people are needing to make.”

Some parents might be even more upset about what their kids are missing than the seniors themselves.

“In some ways, I think the seniors don’t realize everything they are missing. How could they? They’ve never been seniors before, which in a way, is sort of an OK thing,” Gess says.

Like every graduating class, the seniors of 2020 will still have memories of their final year of high school — they’ll just be different than expected.

“We will celebrate our seniors whenever it is safe to do so,” Gess says. “The party will go on, just not when we had originally planned.”