Drive-thru graduations at Stampede Park to replace some high school ceremonies

Some Calgary high school students will be able to celebrate their Grade 12 graduation, despite the ongoing pandemic restrictions banning large gatherings. 

A local company — run by parents of soon-to-be grads — has organized a drive-thru graduation at Stampede Park for June.

The COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing restrictions have resulted in the cancellation of Alberta graduation ceremonies, which usually fill a gymnasium or auditorium. Schools are looking for alternative ways to celebrate students.

And some have signed on to this idea.

Keri Miller said she just wanted the teens to have a proper celebration of 13 years of work and to mark this important transition into adulthood.

“My son’s a graduate and I’m like a dog with a bone,” Miller said. “I really want my son to cross the stage — and I’m one of the lucky ones because I can actually make that happen for him.

“And we really want to make it happen to try as many students as we can.”

Prom photos, diplomas

Miller works in marketing and events organizing with a Calgary firm, E=MC² Events, as a partner and chief creative strategist. So she used those skills and enlisted the help of company president, Gary Davies, who she said also has a child in Grade 12.

Grads and their parents will be able to drive through a circuit with stops for photos of their prom dresses and tuxes, and then a pit stop to don their caps and gowns.

Then they’ll move on to a stage, get out of the car alone and walk across the stage for their diplomas. Classmates and families will be able to watch and clap from the safety of their vehicles. Valedictorians speeches will play on a big screen.

Company E=MC² Events has put together a plan for physical-distancing graduation ceremonies at Calgary Stampede Park. (E=MC² Events)

They hope to replicate as much “pomp and circumstance” as possible, Miller said.

“There’s all these students out there that won’t have that closure that allows one to launch fully into their adulthood. It just feels like there would be this huge void with these 15,000 students in our city,” Miller said.

Not all schools participating

Not all Calgary schools will be taking part. So far, organizers have signed on a couple of schools from the Calgary Catholic School District and a couple of private ones, Miller said. The Calgary Board of Education has declined to sanction the event.

In a statement, the CBE said students and families can take part on their own.

“As a group, senior high school principals determined that drive-through graduation ceremonies posed a number of concerns, particularly related to equity and access for all high school students and families,” spokesperson Megan Geyer said in an email. “In addition, the CBE must weigh the risks and liabilities for any officially sanctioned or approved event.”

Instead, schools are producing virtual tributes for graduates, Geyer said. The board has also mandated a half-day celebration for all schools in the fall.

Alberta Health Services said in a statement that it has received “many” applications for drive-thru grad services across the province but does not specifically approve them. Instead, the health agency reviews their plans and “fairly stringent restrictions” on the activities.

Grads who take part will be allowed to bring one car per household, and have only people they live with in the car. The ceremonies will be streamed online for others to tune in and watch.

The organizers are working on ways to involve families who don’t own cars or aren’t able to drive their grads through the circuit.

Listen to the full interview about drive-thru graduation:

We tell you about plans for a “drive-thru grad” in Calgary. 7:37

The date still needs to be locked down but will likely take place over multiple days. Miller estimated they may get 300 grads participating, roughly 40 per school. They’re budgeting eight minutes for each student to get on and off the stage.

Students will be charged a grad fee, Miller said, as they normally would for graduation. That fee is expected to be set in the coming weeks but won’t fully cover the cost of the venture.

Participating schools will be releasing more information in the future.

With files from Danielle Nerman and the Calgary Eyeopener.

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