Cabrillo Column COVID-19 Education Jordan Lakewood Long Beach Poly Millikan Wilson

COLUMN: Can We Keep the Drive Through Graduations?

Like most people in Long Beach, I cannot wait for the COVID-19 clouds to pass us by, and to resume something resembling normal life. I’m craving an absent-minded trip to Target or a an anxiety-free date night down in the center of my bones.

But even as we continue to muddle through this strange new existence, we’re also creating traditions that I think are worth hanging onto. Being forced to rethink every aspect of our lives has produced some new ideas that I hope don’t go out of fashion in a year or two, as happy as I’ll be to say goodbye to face masks and home learning.

At the top of my list is drive-through graduations. I made time to stop by most of the city’s ceremonies last week and was blown away by what I saw. 

The ceremonies were simple, with graduates driving through campus and being cheered by teachers and administrators and coaches. They were proposed as a kind of intermediary option because of the health department-mandated cancelation of in-person graduation ceremonies. Because they were a half-measure, and planned with less than two weeks’ notice, I expected them to be kind of sad, more a reminder of what had been lost than a celebration.

I was happy to be very wrong.

The drive-through ceremonies allowed the graduates to bring their families on campus, and to wave at and thank teachers who they had a particular connection with. Their cars were decorated with care, from scrawled window messages to custom paint jobs. 

At the Jordan graduation, custom cars abounded and one window message read “They crossed the border so I could cross the stage.”

At Cabrillo, students got a chance to wave goodbye to departing principal Cheryl Cornejo. Millikan’s celebration could be heard for blocks around because of all the cheering. At Wilson, graduates not only got a parade around campus, they then got to do a loop up and down 2nd Street as community members and business owners cheered them on.

Long Beach Poly has always been long on graduation tradition as the city’s oldest high school. It was actually the first high school in California to do graduation ceremonies with caps and gowns, way back in the early 1900s, a time that is now two full pandemics ago. This year the Jackrabbits’ faculty embraced the new tradition and the campus was lined with balloons and big-screen video setups as well.

Now, I’ve sat through quite a few high school graduations—a weird byproduct of being a local sportswriter. I am sometimes invited to graduations or graduation parties and I try to say yes whenever I can. I can say without a doubt that last week’s drive-through graduation ceremonies were more memorable, energetic, and fun than any sit-down graduation I’ve been to.

I’m not saying that the stadium graduations should be replaced—there’s something to be said for having your whole family there to cheer you on as you cross the stage. But I do hope the district can find a way to continue the parade through campus—the smiles and tears I saw on graduates’ faces were no different than the ones I usually see at Veterans Memorial Stadium or Wilson.

Cheers to the local administrators who planned these special events with so little notice. Like the “Congrats Seniors” signs throughout Long Beach neighborhoods, they helped to bring the celebration of this new crop of graduates into the city, instead of being limited to a stadium. And while I can’t wait to get back to “normal,” I hope this is one tradition that sticks.


Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.