Drive-in Graduation an Historic Moment of Celebration for Class of 2020

Graduation commencements are by nature special, but over time they tend to run together and don’t stick out for being unique from year to year.

That will never be said of the 2020 Everett High School Commencement – the drive-in graduation that exceeded everyone’s expectations and truly brought the schools and community together in a way that is often only seen on the football field.

Sisters Rosemary (front) and Michelle Bonilla sat on top of their cars as they passed by the stations in Saturday’s drive-through graduation ceremonies. The innovative COVID-19 approach to graduation was a hit with students, families and the community.

“It’s a spectacle and it’s spectacular,” said Supt. Priya Tahiliani – who was busy all day walking the Lower Broadway parking lots set up for the commencement.

It was her first Everett commencement to boot.

“I didn’t know if it would come together,” she said. “There were so many obstacles. Many of the businesses that were vendors weren’t even open. They stepped it up and delivered the things like balloons so quickly. This has come together wonderfully.”

Graduation had been a focal point since the schools closed suddenly on March 12, not to re-open the rest of the year. That was a decision that Tahiliani and Mayor Carlo DeMaria made in concert, with Tahiliani leaning heavily on the mayor as she had only been on the job nine days. When it became evident graduation wasn’t going to happen in person at the Stadium as it normally does, both began working together to bring the community together for a celebration few will forget.

Drive Through Graduation was an absolute success as families cruised through the parking lots on Lower Broadway watching students walk across the stage, gather gifts, and take a family picture – all in a safe manner with social distancing.

“Everett High School class of 2020 will be remembered by their resiliency and ability to overcome a global pandemic,” said the mayor. “The drive through ceremony was outside the box but nevertheless meaningful and historic for our City. Thank you to all of the students, faculty, school administrators, and volunteers for making such an unprecedented time so successful.”

The drive-thru graduation idea wasn’t initially embraced, as it didn’t sound all that enticing on its face. However, the Schools worked to be innovative, local businesses were more than generous and the Health Department monitored things for safety.

“What’s most exciting is to see the smiles on kids’ faces,” said Tahiliani. “Having drive-thru graduation sounded so disappointing. We had a vision how it would work. I’m glad we made the vision come to life.”

For Valedictorian Ahmed Alananzeh, he said on Saturday he was very impressed. Many seniors like himself were very down that they didn’t get to finish their senior year – didn’t get to attend several events like prom, science trips and now graduation. On top of that, heading off to Yale University in the fall is now in question, as many schools have considered being online for the fall semester.

On Saturday, though, he said graduation was a real pick-up.

“It’s been amazing today,” he said, celebrating with his family at the photo booth. “It’s beyond all expectations.”

The set-up was very unique from start to finish.

Setting up on the Lower Broadway parking lots across from Encore Boston Harbor, the casino had donated thousands of flowers and put together three stages to host graduates. Cars would pull into the lot under an arch of balloons, and three cars would pull up at a time to the various stages.

Senior Adam Bush brought his trusty canine companion to graduation on Saturday. He and his family are seen here celebrating after he crossed the stage.

Principal Erick Naumann would call each student’s name, and they would advance to their appointed stage, cross to the center, get a photo taken, and then celebrate once back in the car with their family.

After that, there were booths set up where graduates would drive by and organizations like the Kiwanis, Rotary, Everett Teachers Association, Everett Bank, The City Council, School Committee, and Universal Screen Printing. After that, the photo booth section was set up for families to exit their cars and take a family picture, which was delivered to them in 45 seconds or less. After that, the ceremony was over – taking about 30 to 40 minutes to pass through the whole thing.

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