Sizzler graduation

Parker Pratt, 21, of Boise, poses for a photo during a surprise graduation ceremony at a Meridian Sizzler restaurant where he works. Pratt graduated from Idaho State University with a degree in music.

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MERIDIAN — Boise resident Parker Pratt, 21, didn’t expect to walk for graduation when Idaho State University’s commencement ceremony was canceled due to the new coronavirus. So he was surprised last week when he arrived at a Meridian Sizzler restaurant, where he’s been working since his classes moved online, to find a makeshift graduation ceremony waiting for him.

Wearing a hand-me-down high school graduation cap and a gown — actually a Halloween cape — Pratt walked through the closed dining area of Sizzler, which was decorated with streamers. With the graduation song “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background, Pratt shook hands with his co-workers, and he was greeted by Gretchen Anderson, the restaurant’s owner, who presented him with a “Zoom diploma,” a reference to the virtual meeting platform.

“By the power vested in me from the Universal Life Church and Sizzler, not ISU, I present to you, after four long years, your Zoom diploma,” Anderson told Pratt as she handed him the framed document.

The graduation ceremony was followed by brunch.

Pratt has been working at Sizzler since high school, both in the Treasure Valley and Pocatello, where Idaho State University’s main campus is located. When his classes moved online this spring, Pratt came back to Boise and was asked to help out at the Meridian Sizzler, which has continued to offer carry-out and delivery service during the pandemic.

“I just showed up one morning like I normally would, and all of the sudden there was a big graduation celebration,” Pratt said. “I showed up in a Mickey Mouse shirt and (had) wet hair, and I didn’t even know what was going on. It really was a surprise.”

Pratt would have participated in commencement on Saturday. He was disappointed the ceremony was canceled, but he said everyone has a “we’re all in this together” attitude, so he’s not angry about it.

“Everyone has to make sacrifices right now,” he said. “But it would have been a lot of fun to celebrate with the rest of the graduating class.”

As for the surprise commencement, he said, “It was so gracious of them and so kind.”

Pratt received a degree in music and hopes in the coming years to move to Chicago and enter a graduate program in arts management. Until the spread of the virus subsides, he plans to continue to work as Sizzler.

“We are very excited for the day when we can have our customers dine in with us again,” he said.

Ryan Suppe is the Meridian reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-465-8119. Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.

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