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September 23, 2020
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Class of 2020 – Drive through graduations

  • We found a way to celebrate class of 2020 Photo by Robert Grant

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
June 12, 2020

On June 5th Rancho Cotate High School (RCHS) held a drive-by graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020. The event was unique in that each student was allowed to exit their vehicle and walk across the very stage that would have been used for a normal ceremony. Family and friends remained in their vehicles but were able to stop in the parking lot in front of the stage to observe their graduates and take pictures and video. Professional photographers took pictures of the graduates per usual. As graduates left the parking lot with family and friends, staff members gathered near the exit clapped and cheered for them. This was all done with more than appropriate social distancing and under the circumstance was very well orchestrated! Kudos to RCHS staff and Rohnert Park Public Safety, who coordinated traffic and of course "Congratulations Class of 2020!"
Photo by Robert Grant

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With the pandemic and resulting shelter-in-place orders, the year has been difficult and different for many in our communities. For the seniors, the Class of 2020, that was certainly true. They had to finish up the second half of their senior year with online classes. They had the usual graduation activities cancelled or replaced by online events. No prom. No Project Graduation night. No senior picnic, rallies or other events. That included not having an in-person, walk across the stage graduation ceremony. But the community came together in various efforts to recognize their accomplishments nevertheless.

On June 5, during an evening event, Rancho Cotate High School conducted a drive through graduation ceremony at the high school. Over 70 percent of seniors participated according to Karen Schubert the office manager at the high school. Dr. Louis Ganzler, the school principal said they looked for ways to celebrate the graduates as soon as they realized it was unlikely that school would go back in session this year. You’ve seen some of the results with the beautiful signs that lined Rohnert Park Expressway honoring graduates. When Governor Newsom gave the okay to hold socially responsible graduation ceremonies, the high school moved quickly “in search of appropriate ways to celebrate our seniors and their families.”

Over a couple of weeks, a committee under the leadership of Assistant Principal Heather Ramme came together to plan the ceremony. It was truly a team effort. The biggest issues were logistics and safety. The first hurdle was to coordinate with Rohnert Park’s Public Safety Department to make sure the event was allowed and within the guidance provided within the county’s health orders. Logistics had to be planned and coordinated.  Traffic flow, spacing, stage set-up, how to get the word out to the graduates and their families were but a few of the considerations discussed. According to Schubert, the goal of the team was to find a way that “was meaningful to families” so their graduates could walk across the stage and “be recognized for their accomplishments.”

The event was a huge success. Ganzler said “he was surprised at how intimate the ceremony was.” Parents and families would drive in front of the stage as their graduates walked across the outdoor stage. They carried their diplomas and wore their cap and gowns. He also said “the ability to see their graduates and cheer for them was very moving” for all involved.  For the staff especially, who were unable to send their seniors off in typical fashion, Ganzler said it was an incredible boost during this challenging year for teachers and staff to end the year.

Many were involved in this team effort. Jason Dawe, a film and broadcast teacher at the high school, filmed the event. After editing, his film will be posted for viewing soon. Assistant Superintendent Synyard represented the district along and Board President Leffler Brown and Trustee Joe Cimino were in attendance. District Maintenance under Josh Savage helped with stage set-up as did Mike Kerby with IT efforts. Assistant Principal Angela Scardina coordinated with Project Graduation providing graduates with student pictures and lanyards. Many other teachers, staff and community members helped ensure this event met the goal of being meaningful to the seniors and their families.

Technology High School also held a drive through graduation on Wednesday June 10 from noon until 2 p.m. in front of the Multi-Use Building adjacent to the student parking lot.  Principal Dawn Mawhinney spoke with me on Tuesday. She said, “at first I was a little hesitant about a drive through graduation.” However once the county opened more and the State Superintendent of Schools issued guidelines for these types of ceremonies, her team sprang into action. Led by THS parent Pinmany Janetvilay, the team started planning just a week ago.

Janetvilay’s team included support from the PTSA to include Amy and Dan Davis and Tamara Pitman. Teachers Amy Alvarez and Hollie Campos along with Office Manager April Nelson and Assistant Principal Cate Woods filled out the planning team.  A smaller event, because THS only has 72 graduates, upwards of 65 students and their families were expected to attend. The student and one adult family member could exit their vehicles and walk up to the balloon decorated stage. Other family members observed from the safety of their vehicles. With cap and gowns and while wearing masks and maintaining social distance, the graduates received their diplomas and yearbook. Assistant Superintendent Synyard again represented the school district and school board members were invited to attend.