In the time of social distancing and elevated personal protection as the nation continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, Bandera High School pulled off a graduation ceremony that was a mix of elements both traditional and uniquely Bandera last week.
On Thursday, May 21, at 7 p.m. in the field between Alkek Elementary and the Bandera Independent School District Transportation Department facility, Bandera High held an outdoor “drive in movie”-styled graduation for the Class of 2020.
In the past, the graduation ceremony was held in large indoor venues like the University of Texas at San Antonio Event Center or the St. Mary’s University Convocation Center.
Alkek Field, which is the name given the space chosen for this year’s graduation, was equipped with a large stage fitted with an enormous speaker system on a field of highly manicured grass that also carried two Bandera Electric Cooperative bucket trucks that had huge American and Texas flags displayed between them.
The site was reminiscent of an outdoor concert venue. A glance at the graduation program, though, showed a ceremony that mirrored past graduations almost exactly.
As the graduates’ cars entered the field, they were directed to marked squares laid out in rows.
Instead of escorting graduates, teachers and staff helped park cars in the various colored sections of the field. Parents and family were directed to stay in the car during the ceremony.
Notably present on the podium was a container of hand sanitizer, which each speaker visibly took time to apply in accordance with health guidelines established in the battle against coronavirus.
As graduates were called to receive their diploma, they exited their cars and lined up around the track with six feet of separation between them, another safeguard that has become commonplace as the nation strives to control the spread of the virus.
When individual graduates made his or her way across the stage, he or she gave the administrators recognition through touch free hand signs like a “thumbs up.” There were no traditional handshakes, hugs or turning of the tassels.
The graduate then stopped at center stage while the announcer listed honors and future plans and a picture of the graduate was projected on the large outdoor screen. There were 142 seniors who graduated from Bandera High this year.
A free-standing BISD logo constructed by BISD Board Member Laurie Neff was used as a shelf to assist in the hands free transfer of the diploma and as a back drop for graduation pictures.
Graduates exited the stage, picked up a goody bag and flower and returned to their cars.
At the end of the ceremony, instead of tossing their caps, graduates honked their horns in celebration.
After the ceremony, local law enforcement led the “Parade of Graduates” down Main Street Bandera. Each side of the street was filled with well-wishers and community members displaying posters, banners and noisemakers to cheer on the 2020 graduates.
Bandera High Valedictorian Samantha Rubalcava and her family resoundingly agreed that the outdoor graduation was a great idea.
High school teacher Fulton Pizzini reported that the FFA students he had spoken with were excited to be graduating together, even if it was outside.
“This is definitely unique. We will just have to see how it goes. This site is better than having no ceremony. At least here, the kids can celebrate together with their families,” said Barbara Blanco, aunt of graduate Olivia Lauren Reyes.
In the new world of a pandemic, some traditions have to change for the sake of safety, but in Bandera, the Bulldog spirit lives on.
To view the graduation ceremony, see the video on the Bandera ISD Facebook page.