The mood is joyous at Santa Barbara High School as graduates, relatives and educators recognize academic success at a unique drive-through commencement ceremony Monday.
SBHS honored its Class of 2020 with a senior salute, which included a creative celebration of the graduating students’ final high school milestone. The graduates were assigned a time slot, and it took about eight hours to funnel the seniors through the outdoor graduation.
The vehicle graduation came with coronavirus-related safety rules. Families and other supporters were required to stay in their cars and people wore face coverings, among other public health guidelines.
A traditional ceremony in the renovated Peabody Stadium will be held at a later date, when everyone is allowed to gather in public places again, school district officials said.
“They (graduates) needed to have some closure now because I don’t know when we will be able to have the traditional ceremony,” SBHS Principal Elise Simmons said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to have some closure, and for us to be able to give their different awards and their diploma, and everything they have earned at this point.”
About 500 students were invited to the drive-in style ceremony, Simmons said.
“Every senior is participating in this — whether they graduated or not,” she added.
An upbeat mixture of pop, rock and hip-hop music blasted from speakers as a procession of cars — several decorated with signs, balloons and the school colors of olive and gold — snaked around the historic building.
Blaring car horns, applause and cheers also sounded across the school campus.
Some family members leaned from their car seats to snap photos and videos of their graduates.
Many graduates stepped out in cap and gown.
Bill Dodson, a 12th-grade SBHS economics and government teacher, saw several familiar faces.
“One-third of everyone who is walking through here are my students,” Dodson said. “It’s finally so good to see them rather than on Zoom or just a letter that we get on Zoom.”
SBHS and other schools across Santa Barbara County attended their final day of in-person instruction in March in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and campuses remained closed for the rest of the school year.
Teachers and students were using the online meeting platform Zoom or other technology to conduct classes.
Dodson, who has been a teacher at SBHS for 21 years, made a handmade sign that read, “You were my favorite student!”
SBHS made the on-site graduation special despite different circumstances than what students had expected pre-pandemic.
“We are making lemonade out of lemons here,” Dodson said.
The graduating students who missed out on many end-of-year rituals had their moment in the spotlight.
“I care for my seniors,” Dodson said. “I remember what it was like being a high school senior and the fun of it all. While these guys were robbed of some of that, they don’t have to be robbed of all of it.”
Students were first greeted with a senior bundle bag from the school.
After receiving their graduation cords and diploma cover, graduates stood on a large “X” taped to the ground, posed for a socially distanced photograph with their principal, and then walked one-way across the campus.
The graduates returned to their cars and left the campus along East Anapamu Street.
A chain-link fence around the entrance of the SBHS stadium displayed large signs with the names of graduating senior athletes.
Head baseball coach Steve Schuck offered a message to his high school seniors, and it could be seen on the fence near the sidewalk.
“You are a special group of young men,” Schuck wrote. “Though adversity pulled us apart, your love for each other is what keeps you a team.”