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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Drive-thru graduation ceremony a creative way to celebrate students’ education milestone

May 7, 2021

Drive-thru graduation ceremony a creative way to celebrate students’ education milestoneOn March 26th at 5:00 PM SJVC’s Bakersfield campus held its first-ever drive-thru graduation ceremony for 342 students who had completed their Business, Medical or Technical programs over the period of March 2020-March 2021. Those who were able to participate enjoyed a graduate-focused ceremony redesigned using CDC guidelines to maximum protection from the CoVid pandemic.


The graduation ceremony that traditionally takes place in a large indoor space with graduates walking across a stage to accept their diplomas to the delight of friends and family in the seated audience, may have modified the flash of presentation, but retained the enthusiasm of all participants.


Ivonna Edkins, Bakersfield Campus President, shares her perspective of this reshaped, though still emotional, experience that staff, faculty, graduates and their families took part in celebrating.


How important is graduation and the official recognition of a student’s successful program completion?


The two most impactful days for our students are the first time they come onto our campus and then, when they graduate. They come in with their dreams and plans and they are excited. We talk about graduation on their first visit, because that is why they’re here. They are here to graduate. We want them to envision that moment because in between those two events, life happens, and they will sometimes have difficult times.


How do you help students get to this successful point of program completion?


We are here to help them with many resources. Our faculty knows what is going on in their lives and they are in frequent touch with students. It is always, ‘What’s going on and how can I help?’ We are focused on how they’re doing in each class, how they are progressing, if they are engaged in their course and how they’re feeling about it. Instructors (faculty) are watching, communicating and paying attention to their progress.


When new students are coming in, we want to make sure they do well, especially in that first course. It sets the tempo for everything that follows. It is important they have good study behaviors and time management and that they know who the resources are on campus. Their success builds more success.


How did the logistics of this drive-thru graduation exercise work?


The last day of their program is their crowning moment and we wanted to make sure their efforts were acknowledged and celebrated.


We had cars lined up to drive through an arch of balloons where we (SJVC volunteers) would meet each car, call out the graduate’s name, congratulate them and present the graduate with a scroll with their name and program. Actual diplomas were mailed to graduates. Many were in cap and gown and surrounded by family members. We took photos and congratulated them on their success.


All our staff volunteered and worked until after the last car came through at 7:00 PM that Friday night. They were all so happy to do it. The values we share here at SJVC and our faculty wanting to recognize our graduating students was definitely a powerful moment. SJVC is so close-knit, and we have a tradition of treating our students like they are family.


Were you able to interact with the graduate and family and friends in the cars?


I didn’t want it to be impersonal, so I’d ask graduates to introduce their families by asking, ‘Who else is in the car?’ Family members would often thank us, when they were often the ones supporting their grad on their journey by helping them study, with homework or maybe with childcare. They all contributed to this success and we wanted them to know that, too.


Were there special moments you and other faculty shared during this significant occasion?


There was one moment when a graduate was sitting in the front passenger seat and I asked if that was her mom in the back seat. She said ‘yes’, but that her mom didn’t speak English. I said to her mom, ‘Hello, Mom; aren’t you so proud of your daughter.’ She didn’t understand, but she could see in my eyes that we were so excited for her daughter. I will never forget her face and her slow tears of joy. It was the face of a mother who was so proud and who was at peace because she knew her daughter would always be OK because she accomplished this. She could release her worry. We didn’t really need language, and I was so grateful to be part of that moment.


One pickup truck had six people in the bed of the truck, including the graduate in cap and gown. It was probably the most decorated vehicle and there was music and waving like a parade. Lots of cars were honking in celebration.


Do you feel the drive-thru graduation satisfied the need to recognize success and send graduates off in style?


We wanted to make sure our students’ success was properly acknowledged and celebrated. And, that when they got home, they could share their success with others and know that they are equipped with the knowledge and expertise with what they’ve studied; that they can take on a job and give back to their community.


What might your next campus graduation ceremony look like?


Because of the pandemic we already missed one graduation exercise completely. Instead, we marked that important milestone of graduates’ lives by giving them a “Congratulations, SJVC Graduate” sign to put in their yards for all neighbors and those driving by to see.


We are looking forward to moving onward and hope we will never have to do a drive-thru or alternative graduation ceremony again. But we will do whatever we need to do to celebrate our students and their success. It is a day that brings joy to all of us, as well as to our graduates.

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