Carmel High Celebrates Graduation at Drive-In Theater

Carmel celebrated graduation in Poughkeepsie at the Overlook Drive-In. Photo by Gabriel Harrison

By Gabriel Harrison

The school year’s end didn’t go as planned for the Carmel High School class of 2020. The last day of in-person classes was in mid-March. Senior ball was canceled. The school production of Guys and Dolls was canceled. Sports were canceled, field trips were canceled, concerts were canceled – the end-of-year milestones important to so many seniors just vanished.

But when it came to graduation, the CHS community found a way to make it work. Last night, hundreds of students and family members gathered at the Overlook Drive-In Movie Theater in Poughkeepsie for the school’s first ever drive-in graduation ceremony.

A prepared video played on an enormous screen over the field, substituting the usual graduation proceedings, and listeners tuned into the audio through a local radio station.

As hundreds of cars filled with CHS graduates and family members entered the expansive drive-in theater, teachers greeted them with waves, cheers, bells, and whistles. Many cars were decorated with balloons, streamers, painted messages like “Congrats 2020 Grads” and the school colors of red, white and blue.

The graduation ceremony video started around 8:45 p.m. As in previous years, the ceremony featured speakers including the valedictorian, salutatorian, administrators and Board of Education members.

Valedictorian Monica Zheng spoke about the importance of speaking out for what is right. John Fink, the Carmel High School interim principal, congratulated graduates for their resilience and adaptability, and described the class of 2020 as innovators for their success in overcoming the challenges of remote learning.

Students and teachers in the music department collaborated on a performance of “I Live” by the band OneRepublic. They recorded separate videos which were combined, synchronized, and shown side by side while the music played. Usually a group of seniors sing live at graduation.

Other traditions were similarly maintained but adapted to fit the circumstances. Usually, students who make honor roll, participate in music and sports programs, or take advanced classes are asked to stand at graduation while the crowd applauds. Instead, Fink asked for a honk from the cars of recognized students. The field exploded with car horns when Fink recognized students who made honor roll and high honor roll and students who took advanced classes.

The ceremony included the listing of all the 2020 graduates, but instead of walking across the stage, their photos were shown on the screen while their name was read. The graduation ceremony ended after 10 p.m.

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