Valedictorian Austin Carrell finally gets to wear his cap, gown and cords. (Photo by Rachel Spall)
Valedictorian Austin Carrell finally gets to wear his cap, gown and cords. (Photo by Rachel Spall)

Arbor Preparatory High School’s drive-thru graduation made it official for 40 students.

YPSILANTI, MI — Seniors at Arbor Preparatory High School in Ypsilanti got their diplomas to-go at their socially distant graduation ceremony on May 29. 

The free college preparatory charter school hosted a drive-thru graduation for the Class of 2020, complete with decked-out cars sporting posters and balloons, a photoshoot station and one particularly dedicated teacher dressed as their Gator mascot. 

Arbor Preparatory High School Class of 2020 Graduation!

Posted by Arbor Preparatory High School on Friday, May 29, 2020

Although it didn’t look anything like a traditional ceremony, one teacher said the entire experience was “completely interactive and far more engaging” than sitting in a cramped auditorium. 

“Commencement could not have gone any better. There was no rehearsal, but the results went off without a hitch,” said art teacher Rachel Spall. “The scene was intimate, with only graduates and their families each in a car and the faculty and school staff in attendance. Horns were honked in lieu of applause and the grads’ families took turns driving them to the front of the parking lot where diplomas were being distributed.” 

Assistant Principal Carlos Hall read off names of students as diplomas were distributed to cheers and honks. (Photo by Rachel Spall)
The parade of vehicles featured balloons, garlands, signs and more evidence of some proud families aware of their grads’ uniquely challenging final semesters. (Photo by Rachel Spall)

After the stress of a senior year cut short, an abrupt transition to online learning, and challenges of day-to-day life as a young adult in the midst of a pandemic, the gratification on the faces of these graduates was clear. 

As their vehicles stopped in front of a well-decorated folding table stacked with diplomas and hand sanitizer, graduates bounded out from passenger seats and truck beds in forest green caps and gowns (and in one case, brilliant bright red pumps) to collect what’s overdue them — before piling back into vehicles laden with balloons and signs to a chorus of happily beeping car horns. 

After each of the 40 graduates received their diplomas, Principal Travis Batt asked them to step out of their vehicles. Then the class did share in one ceremonial tradition: all together, they switched their tassels to the opposite sides of their caps as the principal proclaimed them to be new graduates.

Gabrielle Dumas is in high spirits as she receives her diploma. (Photo by Rachel Spall)

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The Class of 2020: Resilience and Hope 

It wasn’t just the ceremony itself that felt different at this graduation. Both staff and students felt the special reverence of the event, held in the midst of both the coronavirus pandemic and a nationwide sweep of protests against police brutality. 

Math teacher Reagan Chuang, in gator onesie regalia, took pause to honor the seniors’ resilience in the face of lifelong sociocultural unrest. 

“You were born right into a post-9/11 world, where everything was in the midst of changing and so much of your lives and future was shrouded in uncertainty. Eighteen years later you’re now faced with a global pandemic that’s cut your high school years short with seemingly no end in sight. 

“… So why are you here? How have you gotten this far when the odds have been so stacked against you? Part of the answer is resilience. All of you have shown some sort of durability, dug down to get that grit that’s deep inside of you, to not just go through the motions, to just let the world happen around you. But you fought against everything that’s thrown at you to make this very moment happen.” 

New high school graduate Robert Hunt Jr. celebrates as he receives his overdue diploma. (Photo by Rachel Spall)

And instead of speaking to usual platitudes on beginnings and ambition, valedictorian Austin Carrell ended his speech with some words on hope. 

“I, like many of us, am going to college in the fall,” he said. “I don’t know whether I can now … Uncertainty can be more challenging mentally than a bad situation sometimes because you can’t prepare for it. 

“That being said, it’s not the easiest time to move to the next chapter of our lives, but where there isn’t certainty, we can have hope. Hope that the current situation will improve and we can successfully take the next steps in our lives.” 

Arbor Prep is making potential plans for in-person, online and hybrid classes, but will not determine a course of action for the 2020-21 school year until more information from Gov. Whitmer is released. 

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