On May 22, seniors at George County High School in southeastern Mississippi and their loved ones will get in their cars and head to the class of 2020’s graduation. But once they get there, only the graduates will be allowed to leave their vehicles—and even they will only be allowed to do so one by one as they walk across an empty stage to receive their diplomas.
Students will be given two tickets to the ceremony, one for each vehicle they’re allowed to bring. When they go on stage to get their diploma, the cars full of their family and friends will be able to momentarily park in front of the stage to take pictures and offer support.
While the ceremony will be unconventional, George County High School seniors are not alone. As schools across the country scramble to figure out how to plan a graduation ceremony under the coronavirus pandemic, multiple schools have decided to hold drive-thru graduation ceremonies that allow their seniors to be celebrated while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Students at these schools—many of whom have also had their proms and last few months of classes canceled—are not thrilled. While some are simply frustrated at the situation, others said their schools should have waited to see if an in-person ceremony would have become a possibility in June or July.
Jaye Ladnier, a senior at George County High School, is among those who believe the decision was rushed. “Waiting longer was the more reasonable decision,” he said. “I would've felt like they actually cared.”
Izzy Guilez is a senior at The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Pre-COVID, the school’s in-person graduation ceremony was scheduled for May 22. But on April 18, she and her classmates were notified via an email from the principal that the school had a tentative “alternate route” to graduation, quite literally: a drive-thru ceremony.
Guilez said she and her friends have not been pleased with the decision. “So many years of my life went towards this, all the hard work, late nights, tears, and even though it’s not all about walking, that was definitely something important to all of us,” she said. “We are called ungrateful because at least our school is ‘working hard’ to give us a graduation, but quite honestly, I’d rather not have one.”
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Still, for schools in dense areas or places where students and their families can’t be expected to have cars, drive-thru graduations are not an option. So far, these schools and others who simply prefer to avoid a drive-thru ceremony are either canceling the ceremony, postponing it, holding a virtual graduation, or some combination of the three. Houston’s Spring Independent School District, for example, is both holding virtual graduation ceremonies in June and planning to have an in-person ceremony in July.
Some schools, still undecided on what they will do for their graduation ceremonies, have been holding drive-thru cap and gown pick-ups. Among them is Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, where senior Brinda Giri is preparing to graduate soon. Though Giri said the cap and gown drive-thru was “not ideal,” she seemed understanding of the challenges schools like hers face in planning graduation under the coronavirus crisis. “This is an alternative that allows us to be celebrated while still caring for the health concerns of ourselves and others,” she said.
With some states set to open at the end of April, it’s unclear whether schools there will choose to hold regular graduation ceremonies or find alternatives. In other hard-hit states and cities, an in-person ceremony before June seems less and less likely. For now, high school students like, Guilez, are choosing to look forward to their eventual college graduations. Others, Guilez points out, won’t even have that.
“I will be going on to college so I know I will at least get another shot, but I have friends who can’t go on to college and this is all they will ever get to know.”
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