While students from across the county prepared to walk across the graduation stage on Friday, the nine Grace Prep High School seniors put on harnesses and double-checked carabiners. For the third year in a row, the State College parochial school started its graduation ceremony by having seniors zip line over the stage before their walk across.
What is now a well-loved tradition started in 2020 when many graduations were canceled or pushed outside due to the pandemic. When the school moved its ceremony from an indoor church space to an outdoor ceremony at Camp Kanesatake, founder Bob Gresh asked if the zip line could be incorporated into the celebration.
“There’s advantages when it comes to a small school and there’s advantages when it comes to a big school so we really try to maximize the advantages when it comes to things like graduation,” Gresh said.
After three years it has become many of the staff and students’ favorite part of graduation. Each senior zip lines down as staff members read off the names, future plans and jokes about the students they’ve come to know so well. In the three years, every graduate has chosen to participate in the zip line tradition.
Senior Addie Stine said she’s grateful for the opportunities Grace Prep offers as a smaller school, including the graduation ceremony.
“I think it’s one of the parts that I’m actually thankful for COVID because that’s why we started doing graduation here and started zip lining,” Stine said. “I’m glad something good could come out of COVID.”
Elizabeth Shearer, associate head of school, said one of Grace Prep’s values is teaching students to “work hard, play hard.” Shearer’s daughter was one of the first students to participate in the tradition in 2020.
“We like the kids to learn balance in terms of working hard in academics and being rigorous but then doing things outside of the box and having fun,” she said.
It’s a bittersweet end for some of the students, with the joy of zip lining meshing with the thoughts of leaving their classmates and teachers behind. Bethany Brooks, who will be attending Bob Jones University, said Grace Prep’s graduation ceremony, which includes individual prayers for each senior, helps make each student feel important and loved by their school community.
“I am sad to leave Grace Prep because I love it here and I love the people but I know God has a next step for me and I’m excited to see what that is,” Brooks said.