High schools in San Diego County are gradually releasing plans for graduation — and for many of them, you’ll need to bring your car.
With large gatherings still forbidden due to COVID-19, high schools in the Grossmont, Sweetwater, San Dieguito, Mountain Empire, and Escondido districts are among those planning drive-thru graduation celebrations instead of traditional in-person ceremonies.
Families will decorate their cars and drive through or around campus in a kind of car parade, while school staff wave and cheer at them from an adequate distance. Many schools also are holding cap and gown pick-up days beforehand so students can wear their grad garb to these events.
“Our goal really is to … give them a really nice send-off in the best way possible,” said Tim Glover, superintendent of Grossmont Union High School District.
Many schools are calling these June events “send-offs” and “celebrations” rather than “graduations,” because they say these events are not meant to replace graduation ceremonies.
Students and families said in district surveys they still want an in-person graduation ceremony, so schools are holding out hope that they can hold official graduations in July or August.
Some schools and colleges have been planning virtual graduations, but several districts’ surveys found that virtual-only graduations are one of the least popular options among high school students.
Sweetwater Union High, the state’s largest high school district, will hold one massive, drive-thru style graduation celebration for its 6,500 or so seniors at Southwestern College, said Manny Rubio, the district spokesman.
He said the district is confident the event will fit all of the seniors expected to graduate. Cars will be encouraged to move along the inner perimeter road of the college campus, and Chula Vista police will help facilitate, Rubio said.
The district is working out details for how families without a car to participate, he said.
In a survey, only 9 percent of Sweetwater seniors said they would prefer a virtual graduation, according to the district.
Most seniors asked Sweetwater to delay official graduation as long as possible. Sweetwater is hoping health restrictions will allow a ceremony in July or August, Rubio said.
If it’s not possible by then, Sweetwater will tentatively plan graduations for December, when graduates will be back for winter break.
“Even then, graduations probably won’t look the way they’ve typically looked,” Rubio said. Even in December, in-person graduations might involve smaller audiences, staggered times, and multiple ceremonies, he said.
If it’s not possible in December, graduation may just have to be canceled, Rubio said.
When Grossmont surveyed families about graduation, the suggestions that came in were all over the map, Glover said.
Some families said they wanted virtual-only graduation. Some said they didn’t want any graduation at all. Some said they would sign waivers to participate in actual in-person graduation next month.
After seeing what the most popular suggestions were, Grossmont leaders gave schools the options of holding drive-thru graduation, a car parade, or a more unique option: a drive-in theatre commencement.
Grossmont reached out to the Santee Drive-In Theatre before it was allowed to reopen and proposed the idea of holding commencement at the venue, Glover said.
At the drive-in, schools will show 50- to 75-minute videos with pre-recorded speeches from valedictorians and salutatorians, student pictures, and more.
“It’s kind of like we’re inviting you to the graduation … the movie version of it,” Glover said.
Glover said he thinks the drive-in option is the safest way to hold commencement since every family will be contained within their own cars, and vehicles will be set apart at least 10 feet from each other, parked in every other space.
To ensure that families without cars can still participate, Grossmont schools will let families walk in campus car parades, Glover said.
For the drive-in theatre commencements, chairs and pop-up tents will be set up in some parking spaces for families without cars.
“Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible,” Glover said.