Following a challenging year of COVID-19 spent largely in distance learning, 138 seniors in Orcutt Academy High School's graduating class were cheered on into their next chapter during a drive-in ceremony Friday. 

Around 150 cars decked out with balloons, messages of support and other decor filled the baseball fields on the school campus, facing the graduate seating area and portable stage set up for the event.

Valedictorian Camila Gomez, who will be attending UCLA in the fall, congratulated her fellow seniors on their perseverance over the past year, recalling how it felt to finally be back on campus this spring after schools first closed last March.

"I think the mere fact that all of us are here together one last time for a graduation ceremony is unbelievable, considering that most of our interactions have been behind a screen," Gomez said. "When my friends and I first saw each other after a year apart, it was like nothing had changed."

Over half of the Spartan Class of 2021 is headed to Hancock College, with 46% committed to four-year universities and three graduates enlisting in the United States Armed Forces, according to Director of Charter Programs Joe Dana.

One of the three graduates, Sonia Wasserman, will be attending the United States Military Academy in West Point in the fall to study economics.

“I am excited to attend West Point – an environment that will provide a high quality education, grow my character and give me the tools in life to achieve my aspirations,” Wasserman said. “I am very grateful to all the teachers and staff at OAHS.”

While families were encouraged to stay with their cars during the ceremony, many spread out near the front of the field to be closer to the stage and cheer on the graduates.

Brian Speer and his family were able to secure a "front row" parking spot to get a clear view of daughter Riley Speer, one of the three senior class co-presidents who spoke during the start of the ceremony.

"It almost feels like a normal graduation," Brian said. 

Lorrie Dyer, mother to graduate Brooke Dyer, said the ceremony felt special albeit unconventional. 

"I’m quite pleased. I love that they did a stage," she said before the ceremony began. "It’s gonna be great." 

In his remarks to the graduating class, Orcutt Academy Principal Rhett Carter encouraged them to live by the words of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and "look fear in the face" as they head into the world.

"Our students never cease to amaze me. This school year has been a year unlike any other. I am happy to see our seniors come out of it with some exciting plans for the future," Carter said. 

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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