The members of Carson High School’s Class of 2020 completed their year in style Saturday, walking proudly to collect their diplomas after exiting their family cars, elbow bumping with administrators and taking their official photos before rejoining their families.
According to school counselors, approximately 467 graduates received their diplomas during the school’s drive-through format in which staff members and parent volunteers assisted in the procession. The stage that was set up on the northwest lawn near the school’s visible blue and white sign gave incoming cars room to wind through the parking lot.
The event took careful planning, and the morning went without incident as vehicles generally moved about 6 feet apart to approach the main stage. School resource officers, district administrators and trustees helped where needed.
“It’s been a battle and they’ve done a fantastic job with their kids,” Principal Gavin Ward said of parents and families Saturday morning before the ceremony began, noting the students’ determination to finish the school year out in less-than-idea circumstances with COVID-19. “They’re superstars; they’re tough and they’re resilient.”
Some families preferred this new means of celebrating their students’ graduation. They spent their time chatting and laughing with their grads, then drove alongside their graduates for their actual march rather than sitting through an hours-long ceremony. They could take right off to a breakfast or lunch or wherever they chose once they wound through the line and reached Saliman Road again.
The weekend’s culmination of events began Friday evening when Carson High released a virtual celebration via YouTube video of its graduating class. Valedictorian Kai Chen, JumpStart valedictorian Maryn Myler, senior class president Chloe Walt and principal Gavin Ward all provide a short address for the video before slides of graduating seniors are presented, followed by the names of scholarship recipients.
“I am truly sorry the Carson High School Class of 2020 has missed the rite-of-passage experiences of prom, of our traditional graduation ceremony on the field, all of the extracurricular activities, the absence of spring sports, the award ceremonies, the yearbook signings and all the personal interactions that should come with your senior year,” Ward said in his video address. “My hope is you will take these struggles and challenges you will experience and use it as proof that you can adapt and succeed.”
Chen spoke of self-discovery, overcoming disillusionment and the meaning of being resilient, incorporating the metaphor of observing insects reacting to natural occurrences in his garden, particularly one that had retreated after being touched by water.
“Isn’t that small act of perseverance one of the most significant parts of our life, seeking opportunities to succeed after encountering obstacles?” he pondered.
Myler reflected on what the Class of 2020’s semester and turning its challenges around by remembering to stay positive, quoting famous quotes from Professor Dumbledore from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books and others.
“In our four years of high school, we begin to learn who we are … but it’s up to us to take what we have learned in our four years of high school and to turn it into something amazing down the road,” she said.
Walt, defining her cohorts as “the class that never gives up,” reflected on their entry as freshmen and then forwarded to March 12 when Carson High closed due to the coronavirus. She asked them to reminisce on the positive accomplishments they completed while physically in school and she acknowledged Carson City as a whole for supporting the graduating class.
“To all the seniors who missed out on competing, performing…focus on the achievements you did make and the mark you left on Carson High School,” she said. “We are resilient, strong and have the greatest amount of Carson spirit. The Carson community is Carson strong. Our community was able to come together and support the senior class when we needed it the most.”
Saturday’s events began at 8 a.m. with the first group of graduates for last names beginning with A to C. Vehicles gradually snaked around the high school’s south parking lot gradually as directed with graduates proceeding out of the vehicles at the school’s front sidewalk to collect their diplomas from Ward and administrators, walking a platform and elbow bumping administrators and taking photos, then climbing back into their family’s vehicle. They then proceeded out of the school’s exit as directed again onto Saliman Road. Families honked and cheered from cars, trucks and even limousines decorated with flowers, balloons, paint and other decorations.
Cade Crookshanks, who’s off to the University of Nevada, Reno in the fall to study range management and ecology, said on graduation, “It feels like a lot of hard work paid off.”
“It was challenging at times finding communication with the teachers at the right time, but overall … it was flexible in the sense that you could do your work when you wanted to but sort of inflexible in instruction and in the classroom,” he said of the move to distance learning this past semester.
But he remained complimentary of Carson’s transition.
“I think out of all the schools in our area, Carson High did it the best,” he said. “I’m thankful for the staff.”
Celebrating Tyler Baker’s walk across the stage while some waved a large cutout photo of Baker were Baker’s family and girlfriend. Baker said it “felt good” to graduate.
“I’m just happy, it’s different,” he said of the unusual ceremony. “All the cars are honking at each other.”
He said he was planning on going to college as well in Redding, Calif. Baker has been playing defensive tackle for the Carson Senators.
“We’re really proud of him, really super proud, and now it’s time to celebrate,” his mother, Angie Baker, said.
Superintendent Richard Stokes said he enjoys the tradition of graduation, though he hoped the drive-in format might not become the standard for future ceremonies.
“It’s a milestone in the lives of our students,” he said. “They worked hard to get here. We’re proud of them, we’re proud of the staff and the families and the parents who all made it happen. It’s very exciting. I think we’re all interested in seeing the outcome. The expectations are high. I’m glad we’re able to at least see a formal gathering like this.”
Members of the school board assisted at various times of the day, with Trustees Laurel Cross and Stacie Wilke expressing thanks to the school personnel and community members for ensuring the ceremony took place for the students.
“I’m really glad that we’re doing something in person and not virtual, and I know it’s going to be different than anything we’ve done before,” Crossman said. “I think it’s going to be a fun atmosphere and I think the kids are going to be excited to see each other for a brief time. … I’m really grateful for the staff that they’ve worked this hard. I know it’s not what everybody wanted, but it sure is the best alternative.”
Wilke said Saturday’s event spoke to Carson City’s spirit.
“I do really appreciate the staff and parents getting together and doing what’s best for the kids,” she said. “It goes to show in Carson, it doesn’t matter if it’s a crisis or not, we make it an opportunity and make the best of it and we all come together – and here we are in a parking lot at graduation, wearing a mask!”