A Falcon first: Drive-up diplomas

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The Millennium High School class of 2020 received diplomas amid the cheers of families and the honking of horns and car alarms during the school’s first drive-up commencement ceremony.

Graduating seniors with their families and friends lined up in vehicles along Beverly Place on Saturday morning for their turn to enter the car line at the front of the Tracy Learning Center. The line wrapped around the campus up Mae Avenue to East Lowell Avenue.

Each senior got out and walked onto a stage area to receive a diploma from the charter school’s executive director, Virginia Stewart. Family members and friends followed along in their cars, stopping to celebrate together. Teachers and other school employees took photos and recorded video clips to include in a virtual graduation program to be shared with graduates and their loved ones.

Millennium High’s graduation plans were changed when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the Central Valley and state-issued orders forbade large gatherings and required social distancing.

In this most unusual school year, the class of 2020 has been finding novel ways to celebrate under social distancing requirements and stay-at-…

School districts throughout the area have postponed their commencement ceremonies until later in the summer, hoping the restrictions will be loosened by then. But Millennium administrators decided to have their students graduate as scheduled in a modified in-person ceremony that met the social distancing requirements.

Student speakers recorded their speeches, and they were broadcast so classmates and families waiting in cars could tune in.

Graduating senior Nicole Engen talked of the challenges the class of 2020 had faced and declared that her classmates had risen to meet them.

“This wonderful group of young adults here with me are the strongest people I know. If we can survive a global pandemic, I know we can overcome any and every challenge thrown our way,” she said. “Congratulations to all of my classmates. We can now officially say we graduated amid the historical COVID-19. No matter where life takes us and no matter what hindrances we face, these past few months have proven we can and will overcome anything. Together we had these four years, three campuses, two decades, and we will always be one family.”

Ally Baker spoke about being the only class not to have a traditional graduation ceremony.

“These past two months have been a major shock to us,” she said. “We were promised things that are no longer happening. Prom, senior night rally, grad night at Disneyland, senior breakfast, spring sports, the spring musical, the band trip, spring internship and many more possible memories feel like they have been ripped away. It is definitely not fair, but we are used to adapting. We have the strength to continue on with our studies and our lives.

“This has just been an early life lesson that life doesn’t always go to plan. I know I have spent many hours feeling upset and angry about this whole situation, but this is time we would have never gotten if it weren’t for the coronavirus. This time spent with either family, pets, or even yourself is time none of us would have had to reflect before graduation. It was up to us to decide if we should sulk over what could have been and how it was taken away or accept how things are and make the best out of it. This experience is only going to make us stronger.”

The road by the school was closed to through traffic for about three hours as 115 of the 117 graduating seniors participated in the drive-up ceremony.

Tywania Griffin, a math teacher and co-director of the high school, read the graduates’ names as they walked up to receive their diplomas.

“I was very happy with how the graduation turned out,” she said in a written statement this week. “I’m glad that we were able to give our Seniors their moment to shine! I’m extremely proud to work at such an amazing school where we all came together to make this happen for our students. It meant a lot to them and to all of us.”

Four Tracy Unified School District high schools — Kimball, Stein, Tracy and West — are planning to have commencement ceremonies in early August. Mountain House High School may also have an August ceremony. Delta Charter High School intends to have a traditional ceremony but has yet to announce a date.

Contact Glenn Moore at gmoore@tracypress.com or 835-3030.

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