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Drive-thru diplomas

Phoenix High School 2020 graduates will get to wear their caps and gowns and walk across a stage to receive diplomas while families take pictures Saturday, June 6.

But many of the traditional graduation activities won’t take place as the school hosts a drive-through ceremony in front of its north wing off North Rose Street due to restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 153 students and their families will ride in cars that will approach a stage. Graduates will get out and walk across the stage as their names are read and a narrative given on their immediate plans. Diplomas will be placed on a silver platter and then picked up. Family members will be allowed to exit the vehicles to take pictures of the student walks.

“Considering that nothing about this time period is normal, I’m so happy that we can have something going on,” said Brandon Morrison, a graduating senior and vice president of the student body. He’s also pleased that he will be able to give his valedictorian speech on the stage.

Morrison’s friends talk about the ceremony every time they connect. “We’re all so happy to finally be there. There’s nowhere else we’d rather be than there on June 6,” he said.

A camera truck will be set up to livestream the ceremony on YouTube, Facebook and the Phoenix-Talent School District website.

Cars with the graduates and their families will be staged on Rose Street. Grouping will be by last name, with A-F students starting at 3 p.m., followed by G-O at 4 p.m. and P-Z at 5 p.m. No spectators will be allowed at the event. The city of Phoenix has approved closing Rose Street from Cheryl to 5th during the event. Phoenix police will assist with the staging.

“We are hearing that people are renting limousines, looking for convertibles and renting old, classic cars,” said Principal Toby Walker. “It will be maybe kind of like a homecoming event. We wanted all of the students’ families to be able to witness their student walk across the stage.”

Traditional speeches will be interspersed throughout the drive-thru ceremony. Speakers include valedictorians Morrison and Clarice Mathewson and salutatorians Elaine Salcido, Karli Farrimond and Emily Weaver. Walker will also give remarks.

About 10 staffers are working on the graduation arrangements. That includes regulars plus others who bring skills in areas not required before, such as the digital presentation and assembly of the stage area, placed in front of trees and the school building.

Commencements have been held in Ashland’s Lithia Park since 1997, according to research by Anna Redding, who has coordinated graduation the past four years. Her own son, Zachary Dungy, is graduating this year.

Presenters usually accompany students onto the stage, but that won’t happen this year due to social distancing requirements, said Redding. Instead the district is having the presenters take lawn signs to each graduate announcing their achievement. A senior awards video show will be distributed June 1 in lieu of the usual awards ceremony.

School officials also hope to honor the class collectively at a home football game Oct. 2 pending restrictions. The graduates would be presented during halftime and would come dressed in their caps and gowns, with the opportunity to toss their hats into the air as a group.

Graduates and their families would be admitted free to the game and be provided a meal. The class would also have the chance to do the traditional senior wall signing that day. The wall will be in a corridor leading to the new building under construction.

Plans call for holding the 2021 graduation in the new football stadium, which is now finished as part of a $48 million renovation of the high school.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriere@gmail.com.