A short time after power was knocked out to the city of Aurora, there was almost no doubt the Mesabi East High School graduation would still take place.
The graduation was set for 2 p.m. at the Mesabi East gymnasium, and school officials, volunteers and the cities of Aurora and Hoyt Lakes had less than six hours to make sure the 68 graduates still received their diplomas.
When everyone got together to develop a plan, Superintendent Gregg Allen sent a clear message to the group. “I’m going to tell everyone. Graduation is going to happen today.’’
And with that declaration, the discussion turned to where the graduation would be — not if it would be held.
Allen said several options were considered as citizens, along with school and officials from the cities, were calling to offer whatever help they could give.
Having it at 2 p.m. at the Aurora school wasn’t looking good and using a backup generator for the gym was one option looked at. However, isolating the gym power and lights proved to be too difficult, Allen said.
An outside location at the school was considered, but the graduates’ slide shows would be out and the superintendent said the indoor bathroom lights wouldn’t be working.
The next option was the Hoyt Lakes Arena, Allen said. “That was our best option.’’
Mesabi East administrative secretary Nikki Swanson — who also had her own daughter graduating — said a plan was in place by 9:30 a.m. to move everything and set it up in Hoyt Lakes.
Nobody panicked, Swanson said, although some were surely a bit nervous inside.
Any concerns Swanson and Allen may have had were quickly eased. With a smaller group making its way to Hoyt Lakes to set things up, more than 40 others showed up in less than one hour to help out.
“My phone was ringing off the hook,’’ Swanson said.
School and arena staffs brought the stage and decorations to Hoyt Lakes, where the bleachers had to be pulled out and some of the ice arena boards had to be removed for an entry point. Others from the school made sure the programs — and of course the diplomas made the trip. In addition, transportation had to be arranged for the band, which was moved three times once in the arena, and a community member volunteered to bring the sound system.
“There was a lot of little logistics’’ too, Swanson said.
With all that considered, she said it took about two hours to move and set everything back up.
“Everybody just did it,’’ Swanson said. “It was a little act of God.’’
Those in charge also decided to change the graduation time from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. for anyone that wasn’t notified about the change in location or hadn’t heard about it. That was designed to give them extra time to get there if they stopped in Aurora first (where big signs were posted).
Allen credited Swanson with getting the word out about the change in location and time. He said she is the school’s social media person and was key to notifying everyone possible.
The notification efforts included three separate instant alerts via telephone to students, parents and staff.
“Those instant alerts are really effective,’’ Allen said.
Looking back on Saturday’s commencement, Swanson said, “it all worked out for the best I think, It was a beautiful ceremony. It was a beautiful day. It was a memory’’
She also thanked everyone for helping out. “I’m impressed with the wonderful community we have. This is what people do for each other.’’
“It was amazing. It really was,’’ said Allen, who added that the East Range residents really believe in high school graduation.
“That is a big thing in a community’s eyes. A graduation is a big deal’’ so everyone came to help. “People are proud of their graduates.’’
Ironically, graduations were held at the Hoyt Lakes Arena in the past — and could be again.
Allen stated people liked it so much this year, there might be a push to have it there in the future.
Regarding the outage itself, the Associated Press reported a damaged switch tower knocked out power to Aurora. Minnesota Power said a contractor was doing work in the area when the tower that feeds the substation for the city was damaged around 8 a.m. Saturday.
Swanson said the power was back on by 2:30 p.m.