ST. JOSEPH — It’s been a strange year for the graduating class of 2020.
At St. Joseph High School, seniors will get a chance to reclaim some sense of normalcy when the district holds graduation ceremonies on Sunday. The festivities, however, won’t exactly be traditional, as they will feature a drive-in format.
Superintendent Thomas Bruce said the district’s administration chose to put off graduation to July 26 in the hope that restrictions connected to the COVID-19 pandemic could be put in the rearview mirror by now.
But with the number of coronavirus cases again on the rise, the district worked with Berrien County Health Department officials to create an alternative format for graduation, with safety guidelines in mind.
“It will be similar to what we used to do for drive-in movies,” Bruce said. “Every student’s household will have a car there. If you get out of the car to accept your degree, you wear a mask. We’ll have them all at the high school. It will make it more special.”
The drive-in graduation ceremony is set for 6 p.m. Sunday at the high school parking lot. The gate will open at 5 p.m.
Like all other Michigan districts, St. Joseph closed in mid-March when the state enacted its executive order.
Principal Greg Blomgren said students and their parents will arrive for the ceremony in cars, which will be streamed live over Facebook and YouTube.
“This will be graduation as everyone knows graduation to be,” Blomgren said. “I feel very fortunate that everyone can do this. It will follow suit as it has been in the past. We’re going to run a graduation ceremony as if we would on the football field. Only it will be in the parking lot. We will be talking to them as they sit in their cars.”
A cap on who can attend was made for safety guidelines, and because there is limited parking at the high school.
Two large movie projectors will be used at the ceremony so those who are parked away from the stage will still have a view.
“We are taking pictures and recording video that will be provided to parents for free,” Blomgren said. “Typically, parents run down and take photos, but we’re taking care of that for them because of the ceremony’s guidelines.”
Streaming links for the ceremony are not yet available, but they will be shared with the public leading up to Sunday’s ceremony.
According to Blomgren, there 261 graduating seniors for the class of 2020. A handful of seniors have already picked up their diplomas, and Blomgren said they are expecting at least 240 graduates on Sunday.
St. Joseph High School has already altered its graduation ceremony a couple times in the past decade, holding a few of them at the Shadowlands while Dickinson Stadium was under repair.