SLHS grads celebrate in drive-in ceremony, make 'best of the situation'

Sierra Lutheran High School's Class of 2020 tosses its caps in celebration after graduating Saturday. Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal

Sierra Lutheran High School's Class of 2020 tosses its caps in celebration after graduating Saturday. Jessica Garcia/Nevada Appeal

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It was a challenge for Sierra Lutheran High School’s 28 graduates on Saturday to keep tassels, caps and cords on while they marched to get their diplomas or tossed their caps at the end. Their gowns and hair wavered constantly, but their smiles always remained. When it came time to cheer as their kids crossed “the stage,” parents honked their car horns with enthusiasm.

“I’m really excited we get to be graduating in person,” said senior Rosalie Antonucci, who said she’s still undecided about her plans but is thinking about attending the University of Nevada, Reno to study music theory. “It’s not how we kind of expected, but we’re making the best of the situation.”

The high school celebrated this year’s commencement by transforming its parking lot into a drive-in stage for the morning, with families being escorted in and assigned to certain spots. Staff and student speeches were transmitted over 90.1 FM and the speakers provided their addresses from a podium poised on the bed of a truck. The procession itself was arranged so the graduates would walk down an aisle of the parking lot after the co-valedictorian and commencement addresses were given, with individual photos taken as families remained in their vehicles to watch and listen from their radios.

It was unconventional, and the morning’s weather, while windy and overcast at times, nearly called the event off entirely. For the graduates, it topped off a year of change, but they celebrated anyway. Students adapted to online learning and certain events were canceled, but most said their situation with recent developments due to COVID-19 generally improved.

Margaret Lewis looked back on these past few months and said they had gone well, sharing how she’d been working at a local Smith’s store, balancing her studies while still checking in with friends and keeping on at home.

“It was pretty interesting,” she said. “I miss my friends. It’s kind of surreal I’m here, that this this actually happening. I think it’s kind of fun. No one else got to see this happen.”

Lewis plans to attend Western Nevada College for three years, then the University of Nevada, Reno for two more eventually to get her master’s degree.

Other graduates gathered Saturday and heard encouraging words from each other and from their cohorts. From their vehicles, they listened to co-valedictorians Jennifer Carnes and Lauren Rowlatt. Carnes, who plans to attend William Jessup University in the fall, said she’s ready to exit high school.

“I’ve got some pretty big dreams in me with some pretty big callings,” she said. “I feel in my soul that God has some pretty incredible purpose for me, and I know with everything I am that God has amazing purpose for you guys, too, each and everyone of you. This generation has amazing things ahead.”

Rowlatt, co-valedictorian, encouraged her classmates to seek God's wisdom, citing Proverbs 16:9 in her address.

" 'A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps,' " Rowlatt said. "I would like to start by thanking God first and foremost for all He has done to get us here today. As we leave for college, we must seek God's guidance. In His Word, he provides direction and a firm foundation when we feel uncertain of what steps we should take."

School vice principal Kitty Murphy provided the commencement address and executive director Brian Underwood served as the master of ceremonies, opening and closing the event in prayer.

Underwood said Saturday’s ceremony was unique in the school’s history and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to celebrate the students’ accomplishments given the current circumstances.

“The Lord was definitely present and it’s not what happens in life, it’s how you deal with it, and I hope one of the lessons the kids learned from a day like today is you forge ahead and you find a way sometimes,” Underwood said. “And I appreciated the spirit of our families and how they rallied behind this, just the festivities and just the approach.”


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