Graduates parade through campuses
Posted on 06/05/2020
A senior female leans out a truck window in front of a blow up Knight
This spring’s unexpected switch to online learning was a major change for all Orange County Public Schools students. But the more than 13,000 members of the high school Class of 2020 were uniquely affected, with proms canceled and in-person graduation ceremonies on hold.

Virtual graduation ceremonies were set for the first week in June, but schools didn’t stop there. Recognizing the unprecedented circumstances, each OCPS high school also found ways to create in-person drive-by celebrations that were special and showcased school spirit.

At Colonial High, mascot Greg the Grenadier and principal Hector Maestre waved to students from a stage as a parade of vehicles slowly drove by last week. And at Ocoee High, an inflatable Knight and a human-sized one under an umbrella (black and gold, of course) made up the backdrop as graduates passed by in cars, some decorated as extensively as parade floats.
In the streets around Olympia High School, seniors demonstrated just about every way one can sit on or inside a slow-moving car, including through the sunroof, sidesaddle on the door frame, and on the roof with feet dangling into the car.

Students' vehicles were decked out in graduation regalia as well. One car sported a roof-sized mortarboard – built out of black poster boards -- complete with a tassel. Another vehicle carried a senior holding a sign that read: “Class of 2020/Quarantined” with a drawing of a sparkly gold graduation cap over a mask and a roll of toilet paper.

For Principal Guy Swenson, who is leaving Olympia to open one of OCPS’ two new high schools in 2021, the car parade had dual layers of meaning. He stood in the rain and waved at the seniors going by.

“It was a surreal event for me because the seniors were saying goodbye to Olympia and in many ways, so was I,” he said. “It finally hit me that the purpose of graduation isn’t really the conferral of a degree or the celebration of an accomplishment. Rather, it is a ceremony to say goodbye…Goodbye to Olympia, high school, your friends, and in many ways, adolescence. And there I was saying goodbye with them.”

The Orange County community also got involved in sending off the Class of 2020 seniors. In neighborhoods that send students to East River High, a night of red lights celebrated the graduates. The fountain at Lake Eola was lit up in Tigers green and orange for Jones High on June 2. The school did a graduation drive-through the week before.

“You could definitely feel the love from all of the faculty and staff,” said Takeyvia Smith, an 18-year-old Jones graduate who plans to go to Florida A&M University as a Biology/Pre-Medicine student this fall. “It was like a moving party, and I do believe that my classmates had as much fun as I did. Surprisingly, it did take away a little bit of the frustration of not knowing if we will have an in-person graduation. I really do appreciate all the thought and effort that faculty, staff, and administration put into making this moment memorable for the Jones High School Class of 2020.”

If it is possible to hold in-person graduations, Orange County Public Schools is planning for potential ceremonies in July.

Agatha Sabino stands in front of her vehicle that says Air Force Academy boundAgatha Flenik Sabino, 18, an Oak Ridge High graduate, decorated her car with balloons and United States flags for her school grad parade. She used window marker to write “United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School Class of 2021” and “Off to Colorado,” so she could share her excitement about her fall plans.

“It was very touching to see all of the teachers and staff after such a long time,” Flenik Sabino said. "Even with masks on, “I could see on their faces how proud of us they were at that moment.”

Here are some highlights posted on social media