It wasn’t weather or roads that stopped an Altoona family from seeing their son graduate Friday from St. Lawrence Seminary High School. It was the swine flu.
After the eastern Wisconsin boarding school got confirmation of two cases Thursday of the H1N1 influenza and other students exhibited flu-like symptoms, campus leaders agreed to close graduation to visitors to prevent spreading the illness.
“I think they did the right thing,” said Teresa Loftsgaarden of Altoona. Her son, Luke, graduated Friday as class valedictorian. His parents, three siblings and grandmother canceled their trip to attend the ceremony because of the school’s lockdown.
To give parents a view of the ceremony, the school streamed the commencement live on the Internet and quickly produced a free DVD video that students brought home with them Saturday.
As valedictorian, Luke Loftgaarden said he gave a speech about the changes that students underwent in the past four years, including the previous couple of days as classmates got sick. He reminded fellow seniors that their relatives are proud of them, even though they weren’t there in person to offer congratulations.
“We still know that people are there supporting us,” he said this week, recalling his speech.
The school has gotten support from parents for its decision to lockdown campus after getting the confirmed swine flu cases, said Timothy Guiden, the schools’ director of admissions, marketing and alumni affairs.
He added that staff felt validated in the students’ response to the closed ceremony because the school teaches a spiritual formation program, which is designed to help build good character and view life lessons positively.
“The seniors treated it as the first of many sacrifices they’ll have to make,” Guiden said.
Underclassmen and faculty were at the commencement ceremony in lieu of graduates’ friends and family.
Graduation was moved from Sunday to Thursday, which turned the traditional Saturday banquet into a one-day alumni gathering instead of a usual pre-graduation celebration.
Though he hasn’t shown any flu-like symptoms, Luke Loftsgaarden said about 60 other students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, had fevers.
Sick students were asked to stay away from group activities, which reduced participation in a traditional year-end athletic competition called Field Day.
“That took a bite out of everybody’s numbers,” he said.
A sophomore student and a staff member under 25 years old are the only confirmed cases of swine flu at the school, Guiden said Monday.
“It’s kind of had an impact on everything we’re doing,” he said.
The school withdrew from track meets on Friday and Monday, kept year-end class picnics on campus and only had staff and students at the senior class awards ceremony.
But he felt the school is “over the hump now” and all students will be well enough to travel home as the school year ends Thursday.
About 200 students attend the boarding school in Mt. Calvary, which is on the eastern side of Wisconsin, near Lake Winnebago. The graduating class had 46 students.
Luke Loftsgaarden will report to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on June 29, and he plans to pursue a career as an Army officer.