Wednesday afternoon’s celebration at Laguna Blanca School Class of 2020 was punctuated by the sound of vehicles beeping and honking, and cheers of congratulations.
The Class of 2020 entered the campus to applause, complete with whistles and “Woo-hoos!”
The school community honored 48 high school graduates as cars slowly paraded through a designated route on the Santa Barbara campus as part of a drive-through commencement ceremony.
Even though the graduation festivity didn’t look the same as usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the spirited caravan saluted the hard-working and enthusiastic graduates.
The send-off included the graduating class — dressed in caps and gowns — getting out of their cars to have their names called, along with a brief bio, receiving their diploma, and then posing for an official photograph.
Graduates got back in their vehicles and exited the campus.
Vehicles decked out with balloons, markers, homemade signs and other decorations in the school’s colors glistened under cloudless skies.
They donned messages such as “Seniors 2020,” “COVID cum laude” and “LBS Grad.”
The graduating seniors rode in convertibles, pickup trucks and vintage cars.
Some students stuck their heads through the sunroofs and waved to friends, faculty, staff and other supporters during the parade.
The route started at the palm tree-lined Las Palmas Drive to campus. Cars drove beneath a giant, blue and white balloon arch, and snaked through The Rusack Family Parking Plaza.
Spectators wearing face masks parked at an acceptable distance and followed the safety protocols dictated by Santa Barbara County health officials. They watched the graduating seniors grab their diplomas from a staging area set up nearby the Merovick Gymnasium.
Audrey Murphy, a member of the Laguna Blanca Class of 2020, looked forward to seeing her teachers face-to-face for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic closed school campuses across Santa Barbara County in mid-March.
“All of the students know all of the teachers incredibly well,” Murphy said. “They have become some of my greatest mentors and friends.”
During her high school career at Laguna Blanca, Murphy played indoor and beach volleyball, and soccer at the varsity level. She participated in the school’s STEM program, where she conducted neuroscience research during her junior year.
She received the “Spirit that is Laguna Award” at the school’s awards ceremony last week. The award recognizes the recipient who demonstrates exceptional enthusiasm, cheerfulness and selfless devotion to others in the Laguna community.
Murphy also organized and choreographed a faculty flash mob dance to surprise the entire student body at a pep rally this year at Laguna Blanca.
“This concludes the 12 years we spent in school,” Murphy said of graduation. “We still have four more years to go, but it kind of puts a cap on everything — no pun intended — because it gives everything closure, and it’s time to say goodbye to this chapter of your life.”
The 18-year-old recalled fun memories she shared with her Laguna Blanca friends, getting to know her classmates, plus dinners, sporting events, a class camping trip and a tight-knit school community.
“All of my school friends are genuine friends because I know them so well,” she said. “When this all kind of went up in the air, I stayed confident I would see all of my classmates again…It made me grateful for the opportunities we have with the small school and small class in such an awkward period of time.”
Murphy is headed to USC this fall to study business administration at the college’s Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles. She hopes to pursue a job that allows her to travel the world and interact with all types of people.
“It’s all very exciting,” Murphy said. “I’m excited to meet many people in college.”
At the commencement, families and students could listen to the ceremony via their car radios.
Santa Barbara-based SPARK Creative Events assisted with the outdoor event space.
The graduating class received the senior issue of the Fourth Estate, a Laguna Blanca student-run magazine.
Blake Dorfman, director of student life, served as emcee. He is a 2002 graduate of Laguna Blanca.
Dorfman also taught English to the Class of 2020 when the students were in seventh-grade.
“I think of all the work they put in, the stress they have overcome, and the joyful moments they had together on campus,” he said. “We want to recognize that, and have everyone on campus however we can.”
Graduating from high school is an important milestone, and a time for everyone to come together.
The sense of community was evident among the graduates and educators.
Laguna Blanca’s No. 1 strength — out of many — is the human connections, Dorfman said. The Class of 2020 has strong bonds, he said.
“Your school campus is where you spend a huge chunk of your life as a teenager and a young person, and some of these students have been at Laguna since kindergarten,” Dorfman said. “The feeling of everybody being at the campus, whether it’s in cars or not, at the same time, is therapeutic.”
Other socially distanced commencement festivities are planned for later on.
The in-person event will include an award presentation and reading of vignettes that feature anecdotes and highlights of the graduates’ careers at Laguna Blanca.
If everything goes as planned, the celebration will occur on the school’s large field.
“Laguna graduation ceremonies are pretty magical events,” Dorfman said. “There is usually not a dry eye.”
Tina Braniff, assistant to middle and upper school division heads, played an instrumental role in organizing Wednesday’s event.