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Orcutt Academy seniors graduate at drive-in theater

Orcutt Academy seniors graduate at drive-in theater

From the Class of 2020 celebrated with unique, physically distanced celebrations across the Central Coast series

Drive-in theaters are becoming extinct across the nation, but Orcutt Academy High School opened a new one for one night only Friday to screen a special feature — the graduation of 130 seniors, who watched the video with their families from cars parked on the field.

The drive-in theater-style graduation was requested by the Class of 2020 as their school's response to social distancing mandates aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19.

Each graduate was allowed one vehicle containing no more than five people, who had to remain inside the vehicles that had to be parked at least 6 feet apart.

“We have learned this year just how quickly our world is changing and the importance of being ready to adjust to an adverse situation at a moment’s notice,” Principal Rhett Carter said on the video. “I truly believe that Class of 2020 was meant to take on this current trial.

“These seniors have proven that not only are they capable of adjusting to unforeseen adversity with resilience, but that they are also equipped to help others to resolve problems and face the adversity head-on.”

Carter noted 46 of the graduates plan to attend a four-year university, while 71 are enrolling in a community college. Four are joining the military, and nine are going straight into the workforce.

He said 54 of the graduates received a scholarship, with the amount awarded totaling $413,775.

The video shown at the impromptu drive-in was created over a month’s time and included such commencement activities as an exchange of flags by seniors and foreign exchange students and the changing of tassels.

Speeches by this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, Isabel Guerrero and William Jin, respectively, were also part of the video.

Both speakers told fellow graduates how their lives and futures should not be defined by the COVID-19 pandemic that has altered our lives.

"Every single one of us is taking away something different from our experience these last four years, something more personal and important than what the pandemic would cause us to forget," Jin said.

"Instead of toilet paper shortages, I'd rather remember the sold-out shows to all the amazing productions our drama class put out," he said. "Instead of the pain of losing Grad Night, I'd rather remember losing in the first round of Quiz Bowl two years in a row."

He went on to list other things he would prefer to remember from his years at Orcutt Academy.

"Just by all of us being here tonight, I've learned that each and every one of us has the power to always see the positives, regardless of the cards we are dealt," he said. "And that power is what I'll remember in the years to come."

Guerrero expressed similar sentiments.

"Our class refuses to be defined by what has happened to the world in the last few months," she said. "Instead, we choose to be remembered for what we have accomplished in the last few years at Orcutt Academy. COVID-19 is not our story."

She recounted some of the events and emotions students had on their journey from freshmen to graduates.

"We found our passion ... we challenged ourselves ... we learned and we grew as students, teammates, friends and people," Guerrero said. 

"I have no doubt the Class of 2020 is going to change the world, each and every one of you," she said. "You already have."

The speeches were followed by individual videos of graduates in caps and gowns receiving their diplomas from members of the board of trustees that were combined to create the illusion of a traditional ceremony.


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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.

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