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See How The Collegiate School of Memphis Got Creative with Graduation

See How The Collegiate School of Memphis Got Creative with Graduation
Collegiate graduate

Gustavo Jimenez-Guzman will attend the University of Notre Dame. photo: Harris Beauchamp

Graduation in a parking lot? Broadcast on a radio station? Extreme times call for extreme measures. Read on to see how The Collegiate School of Memphis honored their Class of 2020.

Graduation is an important milestone in students’ lives, and like many other events, it has been impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one school, The Collegiate School of Memphis, was able to hold a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 in an innovative format: a drive-in graduation. 

Collegiate considered several alternatives for a graduation ceremony, including an online virtual ceremony and using the drive-in theater in Memphis to view a movie compiled with recordings of the seniors receiving their diplomas. However, the school ultimately decided to have a drive-in graduation. The graduation was made possible through the generosity of the school’s donors, the coordination of John Carroll, the Executive Director of City Leadership, and the help of Hope Church in providing the required (giant!) parking lot.

Matthew Davis, the Alumni Support and Event Manager at Collegiate, recalls planning the graduation. He explains that Collegiate wanted to include everyone who was a part of the seniors’ journey.

“Community is part of our DNA at Collegiate. It is the reason that we are so effective at preparing young ladies and gentlemen for college. This year especially, with everything going on with COVID, when nothing feels normal, we needed to come together and honor our seniors. It allowed us to create a sense of what would have been if the pandemic had not been a part of their graduation story.”

Mr. Davis explained why seeing the 2020 Collegiate class graduate was so important to him, and expresses what so many teachers have felt over the last two weeks.

Taylor Johnson raises her hands in joy as Principal Warren Grimm applauds her. photo: Harris Beauchamp

“This class will always be special to me. I have personally taught this group in four different classes over six years. I have seen them grow up from awkward 7th graders into amazing young men and women who I truly believe will change the world. The graduation ceremony was the culmination of everything I have hoped and prayed for over the years for these seniors. When COVID hit and the plans I had spent all year making for the seniors began to unravel, I was sad. So being able to plan and create this graduation ceremony in the way that we did filled me with joy. I felt we were able to celebrate and honor them well. I might have gotten a little teary-eyed seeing the seniors’ faces on the big screen. Seeing them walk across the parking lot and grab their diploma filled me with so much pride in what they accomplished.”

The unique graduation brought teachers, students, and families together to celebrate the achievements of the 2020 graduates. Like every graduating class in the history of Collegiate, this year’s class had 100% college acceptance. Fifteen graduates will attend the University of Memphis, seven will attend Christian Brothers University, and three will attend Rhodes College. Many other non-local schools are represented in the class, including Columbia University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Notre Dame. 

Collegiate's Head of School at the podium.

McKenzie Cohen, Collegiate’s Head of School, addresses the graduates and their families in the Hope Church parking lot. photo: Jessica Isley

The unique format of the graduation didn’t stifle the excitement and celebration. Families and teachers used their car horns to celebrate the achievements of students as they earned their diplomas, while adhering to social distancing. The parking lot was filled with many cars with balloons and written, congratulatory messages on windows for graduates. Families held up signs, including a sign with a graduate’s face, and there were teachers who watched and cheered from the sunroof of their cars.

A few graduates describe their unique graduation. Luis Martinez, the salutatorian and a soon to be freshman at Christian Brothers University, recalls his experience. 

“My overall high school experience was great. Even with the coronavirus pandemic, [Collegiate] managed to make our graduation one of a kind…Everything was transmitted through a Jumbotron for the families and guests to see what was happening from their cars, and they got to listen to everything from the radio. Instructions were laid out for the Class of 2020 to follow so the ceremony could run smoothly. I enjoyed the honking of cars because it was different. It was the special way to show the parents and guests’ enthusiasm and joy for the graduating class. I found it funny but cool at the same time. The 2020 graduation was indeed different but a special and fun experience. I am just happy that I was one of the lucky ones to experience a one-of-a-kind graduation.”

Devin Clark, who will be attending the University of Memphis, describes his experience. 

Cars in a parking lot for drive-through graduation

Collegiate’s carefully organized graduation followed all standards of social distancing, while also allowing graduates and their families to celebrate. photo: Matt Davis

“Collegiate gave the Class of 2020 a very unique graduation experience, one that I’ll never forget. Our class feared that it would not be possible to have a graduation…However, Collegiate made sure that this wasn’t the case. They put a lot of work into making sure the Class of 2020 received a great graduation experience. …Our school made sure everything was arranged correctly in order for the event to run smoothly. Although we were separated and unable to physically interact, everyone showed their excitement and support for our class by cheering and honking. I enjoyed my graduation, and I am so thankful for all the effort Collegiate put into it.” 

The drive-in graduation was truly a memorable experience. As a recent Collegiate graduate myself, I know that the school always strives for excellence and celebrates the success of its students. This graduation was special for me because my family and I were able to see my brother and his peers graduate. It was an exciting experience that brought the Collegiate community together, and I know that everyone who attended the graduation will remember this unique ceremony.

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