Ingenuity Charter School 2020 Graduate proudly displays her diploma

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the “new normal” everyone is adjusting to, one nostalgic way of life has returned in full force: the drive-in. People are now enjoying socially distanced activities like drive-in movies, restaurants, and even concerts.

But the Class of 2020 at Ingenuity Charter School took part in a completely new spin on drive-ins—the drive-in high school graduation ceremony.

The school, which opened its doors in 2015, exists to give San Diego’s underrepresented middle and high school students access to an outstanding distance-learning education that fits around their unique home and work responsibilities.

Despite the many constraints imposed by COVID-19, Ingenuity made sure their students would get the special graduation they deserved.

An unforgettable graduation, no matter what

To tackle this challenge, Ingenuity created a Graduation Committee among their staff and instructors to begin exploring options.

“We came up with four possibilities,” said John Lee, Ingenuity instructor of six years and Team Leader. “We could hold a virtual ceremony; a drive-in ceremony; postpone the ceremony until the winter; or do a graduation video.”

The committee voted on the drive-in ceremony option.

“Most of our graduates have spent years in the at-risk youth category,” said Tiffany DeGraffenreid, Ingenuity Charter School Principal.

“Many of them had always dreamed of walking across the stage at graduation while their families looked on proudly, but they never thought it would be possible. After all of their diligent, hard work to get here, we owed it to them to do everything in our power to help their dream come true.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Ingenuity’s staff and instructors went to work, strategizing and hammering down the logistics of making a drive-in graduation happen. The committee designed a detailed, efficient schedule for the day, which they would be able to execute smoothly by communicating via walkie-talkies.

“The two biggest logistical challenges we faced in planning our graduation were space and the safety of our students and staff,” said Nicole Taugher, Ingenuity instructor of four years.

Above all, Ingenuity had to ensure everyone maintained social distancing protocols. This meant allowing only a certain number of cars into the parking lot at a time, with only one car per graduate. Each car also had to be directed to a designated spot so that everyone had a clear line of visibility to the stage.

Once Principal Degraffenreid gave the opening ceremony remarks, the students walked over to a marked area where they stood in line, six feet apart from one another.

Each teacher for that particular student called their name. When walking across stage to receive their diploma, everyone wore masks and had to refrain exchanging hugs or hand shakes.

“That part was definitely a little tough,” Taugher said. “It’s hard not to shake hands when congratulating students on such a big achievement.”

The principal handed each student their diploma and posed for a picture with them. Then the student exited the stage and went directly back to their car. After all students’ names were called, closing remarks were made, students turned their tassels, and car horns erupted in celebration.

Ingenuity Charter Principal Tiffany DeGraffenreid presents a 2020 graduate with his diploma

A socially distanced, but emotionally close, celebration

Graduation Day at Ingenuity was just as significant and special as the traditional ceremonies of years past. The stage was decorated with flowers and balloons in the school’s colors. The Ingenuity Charter School crest hung proudly in the background. And all of the teaching staff wore big smiles and graduation gowns.

“The best moment of the day for me was being up on stage and calling the names of my students,” Lee said. “It was so fulfilling to be able to share the moment with them.”

Taugher said the most gratifying aspect of the day for her was being able to create a unique, memorable socially distanced ceremony that students will likely never experience again.

“In the end, it turned out perfect,” she said. “It was a joy to see them excitedly walking across the stage and feeling that huge sense of accomplishment about completing high school. They were able to get closure, and can now really look forward to the new life events that await them.”

[call_to_action color=” button_text=’Learn More’ button_url=’’]To enroll your student at Ingenuity Charter School, fill out an application on our website today: [/call_to_action]

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