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Yokota High School seniors announce their post-graduation plans during a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Friday, May 1, 2020.
Yokota High School seniors announce their post-graduation plans during a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Friday, May 1, 2020. (Theron Godbold/Stars and Stripes)
Yokota High School seniors announce their post-graduation plans during a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Friday, May 1, 2020.
Yokota High School seniors announce their post-graduation plans during a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Friday, May 1, 2020. (Theron Godbold/Stars and Stripes)
Yokota High School seniors who plan to enlist in the U.S. Navy were among those taking part in a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, May 1, 2020.
Yokota High School seniors who plan to enlist in the U.S. Navy were among those taking part in a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, May 1, 2020. (Theron Godbold/Stars and Stripes)
Yokota High School senior Austin Fisher helps his girlfriend, Allie Hill, decorate her car for a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, May 1, 2020. Hill will attend Baylor University in Waco Texas, in the fall, while Fisher is enrolled at nearby Texas State Technical College.
Yokota High School senior Austin Fisher helps his girlfriend, Allie Hill, decorate her car for a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, May 1, 2020. Hill will attend Baylor University in Waco Texas, in the fall, while Fisher is enrolled at nearby Texas State Technical College. (Theron Godbold/Stars and Stripes)
Yokota High School guidance counselor Rene Kelley paints a poster on her car before driving with students in a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, May 1, 2020.
Yokota High School guidance counselor Rene Kelley paints a poster on her car before driving with students in a decision day parade at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, May 1, 2020. (Theron Godbold/Stars and Stripes)

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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Despite stringent public health restrictions, Yokota High School tried to bring a little normalcy to its students this week by praising their academic accomplishments — at a distance.

On Thursday, students took part in a drive-thru awards ceremony, and on Friday the senior class held a decision-day parade, in which they announced their post-graduation plans by decorating vehicles with balloons, glitter and posters. Some are going to college or technical schools, others into military service.

“It has been difficult for some students and this is a way for them to drive through, see and wave to their teachers while being recognized for what they have done in the previous quarter,” Principal Priscilla Hill said Thursday.

Yokota High, like other schools in Department of Defense Education Activity-Pacific, has been closed since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. DODEA students in Japan switched to at-home distance learning via the internet on March 25.

The Yokota High administration has yet to decide whether to hold a graduation ceremony or how to conduct it.

Nonetheless, Hill said, staff and faculty at the school, whose mascot is a panther, wanted to show how much the students mean to them.

“We just want to do the best for our students even with the circumstances that we are in because we owe it to them,” she said, “and we want to encourage them to do their very best academically and that we still support them.”

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, all students were encouraged to drive to the high school parking lot and without leaving their cars pick up a small paper “paws bag.” Inside they found snacks and school memorabilia.

About 150 parents and students showed up. Students who achieved academic goals, such as high GPAs, received certificates. Those who finished the year with a 4.0 received a small medal shaped like a panther.

Starting at 1 p.m. Friday, decision day, graduating seniors in 20 cars drove the length of the air base along its main street and looped back to the high school.

Staff, students and parents were obliged to comply with requirements of a public health emergency declared April 7 by 374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Otis Jones. The drivers wore face masks and did not leave their vehicles; likewise, faculty and staff wore masks and gloves and employed hand sanitizer.

The event Thursday took 12 hours to set up, said Michael Wagner, a high school English teacher, who dressed as the school mascot.

“These are extraordinary times,” he said, “and we should take extraordinary measures to let them know how we feel about them.”

godbold.theron@stripes.com Twitter: @GodboldTheron

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