For most students, both in high school and college, graduation day is looked forward to for years. They dream of walking across the stage, receiving their diplomas and shaking hands with the leaders of the institution. This moment represents years of hard work and dedication to learning. For students across the country, the end of the school year is looking different than it has in the past due to measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. For seniors of all levels, this can be particularly difficult. It could mean not experiencing their final week of school and even missing out on their long-awaited graduation ceremony. These protective measures are also impacting students here in Butte, Montana. However, the resiliency of the community and educational institutions is shining through as graduation rolls closer.
Butte Central and Butte High School
For high school seniors graduating from one of the two Butte high schools, graduation ceremonies are still scheduled to happen. While the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department has ordered the cancelation of any events that would bring together more than 10 people during the first phase of Montana’s reopening plan, two exceptions exist: the graduation ceremonies for Butte Central and Butte High School seniors. Health department officials decided to make an exception for the graduation ceremonies because they are “highly choreographed, systemized, and organized.” Thirty-seven students are graduating from Butte Central on May 17. They will each be allowed to bring about four guests to the ceremony. Butte High School seniors will graduate on May 27.
The university located in Butte, Montana Tech, on the other hand, has canceled the in-person graduation ceremony they typically host each year. The Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education made the decision to cancel in-person commencement ceremonies for all of the Montana University Schools. After announcing that the event was canceled, Montana Tech shared that they have put together the Phoenix Recovery Committee. This committee is in place to redesign campus events for current and future students in the wake of this coronavirus pandemic. One of the most important roles of this committee is to come up with a way to honor and celebrate the 2020 graduates.
How The Public Is Supporting Butte Graduates
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Butte community would work hard to celebrate their graduates, even without a ceremony. There are endless examples of how the community is supporting Butte graduates. One local business owner, Rob McClain of Copper City Signs and Awning, has been busy making custom signs and banners for high school graduates throughout the state and in Butte especially. Reducing prices of these signs and banners to help families celebrate their seniors, McClain is doing his best to show his support for local high school graduates.
A Graduate Spotlight
With nearly 1,000 students graduating from Montana Tech, Butte Central and Butte High School combined, there are endless stories that could be shared to honor and celebrate them. From first-generation college graduates to high school seniors who missed out on their final season of softball, track or another spring sport, at Montana Connections Business Development Park we want to recognize and honor the students who contribute so much joy and a spirit of innovation to our favorite city. We interviewed one Montana Tech graduate, John O’Donnell, originally from Billings, Montana, to get his perspective on the university and his experience there as he looks back on his four years in this lively city.
Montana Connections: What degree will you be graduating with, and why did you choose to study this subject?
O’Donnell: I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering. I chose this degree because it presents so many challenges that other engineering disciplines don’t. You have to drill a well that is 2 miles below your feet and 2 miles straight out from you while dealing with thousands of pounds of pressure and protecting the environment at the same time. Plus, you get to provide a resource that everyone uses in their daily lives and depends on to survive.
Montana Connections: Why did you choose to attend Montana Tech?
O’Donnell: I chose Montana Tech because it was ranked one of the top colleges in the nation in Petroleum Engineering. Also, it helps that it is located in Montana which allows me to receive the lower in-state tuition.
Montana Connections: What are you going to do now that you are done with college?
O’Donnell: Now that I am finished with college I have signed a contract to work with Schlumberger in Cota, Colombia. (Yes Colombia as in South America).
Montana Connections: What is your favorite part about Butte?
O’Donnell: My favorite part about Butte is the people for sure. The people of Butte are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Everyone there treats everyone like family. However, the Party Palace was a close second.
Montana Connections: Tell us a little bit about the people of Butte.
O’Donnell: The people of Butte are one giant family. You will not find another community in the world that has a greater sense of pride from where they are from.
Montana Connections: Do you have a favorite local business?
O’Donnell: 5518 Designs has to be my favorite local business in Butte. They create some of the best Butte and Montana Tech apparel you can find!
Montana Connections: What is your favorite place to eat or drink in Butte?
O’Donnell: The one place you have to eat in Butte is the Freeway Tavern. The “Wop Chop” is the best pork chop sandwich in Butte. (Sorry Pork Chop John’s). Then, there is no better drink than a “Dirty Girl” from Headframe Spirits. Also, if you haven’t gone to Fifty One Below to relive the speakeasy days you need to put that one on your list.
Montana Connections: How do you feel about the graduation ceremony being canceled this year?
O’Donnell: It was really disappointing not to be able to have a graduation. I was looking forward to walking across that stage and be recognized for the 4 years of hard work that I put in. Also, it was one last time to celebrate and say goodbye to all of the friends I had made over the years.