Drive-in graduation ceremony held Thursday at fairgrounds

PASO ROBLES — The first of three Paso Robles High School drive-in-style graduations went off without a hitch Thursday night at the Mid-State Fairgrounds. It was as if they had been planning to do it this way for months.

Truth is this version came together late Tuesday night after plans for nearly 20 mini-graduation ceremonies at War Memorial Stadium were nixed by state health officials roughly 24 hours before the first graduates were to receive diplomas.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, large gatherings are not allowed in California. Many schools have held drive-in or drive-thru graduation ceremonies.

“The road to today was rocky, ever-changing and full of challenging and disappointing decisions,” PRHS Principal Anthony Overton said. “However, despite all of the challenges, one thing stood out to me over and over and over. In a world where people could be anything given heart-breaking news, difficult decisions, ever-changing expectations, I was met with genuine and authentic kindness.”

Two more drive-in-style PRHS graduation ceremonies were scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Independence and Liberty graduations took place on Wednesday.

Overton was the emcee of the commencement ceremony. Each graduate with their family and friends packed into one car, truck, or van drove into the fairgrounds parking lot near Highway 101 and parked, pointing toward a decorated podium and large video screen.

People making speeches were played on the screen. Graduates exited their cars and lined up six feet apart, leading up to the podium where they received their diplomas from a family or friend. With their diploma in hand and after a quick stop for a professional photo, they returned to their vehicle.

The entire ceremony lasted less than 90 minutes.

Superintendent Curt Dubost, in his videotaped remarks, said the world remains “bright.”

“Know this Class of 2020, your future remains bright and the experience of these last few months have taught us all to persevere, remain positive and to keep believing in the fundamental goodness of each other, our community, country and the world,” Dubost said.

All of the student speakers — ASB President Gabriella Clayton, Senior Class President Morgan Harrington, Salutatorians Jeremy Hunt and Robert Snipes, and Valedictorian Danielle Halebsky — spotlighted their ability to persevere.

“By graduating today, it shows that we did not give up. We all had to adapt and overcome,” Harrington said.

Clayton said, although this may “feel like the end,” it is just another chapter in life, and “the best part of our books have yet to be written.”

She also quoted world-renowned poet Mike Tyson and recalled their place in history.

“‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face,’” Clayton said. “Quite frankly, I believe we can all agree that 2020 punched us in the face.

“We entered this world during the tragedy of 9/11 and are now graduating high school through a global pandemic. There will never be a class like the Class of 2020,” she added.

Before presenting the PRHS Class of 2020, Overton knows the past four years and especially the first half of 2020, have prepared them well for life.

“I don’t think any of us saw our current reality coming,” Overton said. “Nonetheless, I know you are prepared.”