By Emma Benson and Sydnee Gonzalez
Taylor Hansen had a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that she wasn’t going to get the opportunity to formally celebrate the end of her undergraduate experience.
“I didn’t know how much walking at graduation truly meant to me until it was taken away,” she said. “The closer to the date of graduation, the harder it was because I realized that I wasn’t going to get the closure that I felt that we all deserved.”
But the lack of a formal ceremony wasn’t going to stop Hansen and 15 of her broadcast journalism cohorts from celebrating — within the COVID-19 guidelines.
Graduates, family and friends parked their cars in the parking lot of a church in Provo on Friday to participate in a “drive-in” ceremony. Only three people left their cars at a time to keep in line with the COVID-19 social distancing regulations, and each person had to keep a six-foot distance from other participants. The graduates also made sure to hand out gloves to anyone who planned on touching the mic, make hand sanitizer available to participants and wipe everything down.
Each graduate walked across the sidewalk in front of the cars to pick up their homemade “graduating during a pandemic” diploma when their name was called.
“I feel very lucky that there are people in my cohort that really wanted to put something like that together because not everybody had something to attend this last weekend,” Hansen said. “It was fun having something that I can actually go to.”
The idea to hold the drive-up ceremony was the brainchild of Mary Wall. Initially, she and other graduates had planned on holding a small gathering with the graduates and their families but social distancing measures quickly ruled that out as an option.
“As guidelines were changing from originally 100 people could gather together to 50 people to 10 people with social distancing guidelines we realized that, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to really change how we expected to do this,'” Wall said. “At first I was like ‘If we only have 10 grads then we’re fine.’ But then I realized there were more people who wanted to join in.”
After seeing a few Twitter posts about drive-up church meetings on Easter Sunday, Wall got the idea to do something similar for graduation. She then started reaching out to friends to coordinate the event, which she said was changing up to a few hours before it started.
“It was a little crazy,” she said. “It was a little bit stressful because we wanted to make sure that our number one priority — no matter how much we wanted to celebrate or what we wanted to do — was people’s safety.”
Wall and her classmate’s hard work and discipline paid off though. She’s grateful that they were still able to have a positive experience while maintaining safety precautions.
“I remember just kind of looking at everyone in their cars and everyone’s cheering with their windows down and people decorated their cars and recognizing that even though this wasn’t a normal convocation, where everyone is sitting in a room together all dressed nice, that this was still fulfilling that ritual we all desired and celebrating us and our hard work in a slightly different circumstance than we expected,” Wall said.
Even though it wasn’t the ceremony they had looked forward to, Wall said there was one upside to having a drive-up ceremony — the graduates didn’t have to limit themselves to inviting just four of their family or friends (the number of convocation tickets their college gives to each graduate). Wall said each graduate was told they could bring up to two cars to the drive-up ceremony. She said there were 20 to 30 cars that showed up.
“The people who supported me throughout my years in college, there were way more than four people and I was originally sad that not all of them could participate,” she said. “But then with the drive-up graduation … if your whole family wanted to fit in their one car, then they could come. So we were able to have a more inclusive graduation with the people who were really meaningful to us.”
The event was also livestreamed through a private Instagram created especially for the event so family members and other graduates who couldn’t attend could watch from home. Wall said there were over 47 people streaming the event from places all over the world. Hansen was one of the graduates who benefited from the private Instagram.
“It was being livestreamed to our families that couldn’t attend, so my family in California got to watch as my name was called,” she said.
Hansen said at the conclusion of the ceremony, all the graduates stuck their heads out of their cars to cheer with each other in celebration.
“It was a great moment to be there with everybody who went through the program with me and it actually felt really rewarding,” she said. “I think it was really special that this event was put together that we could actually have this opportunity to celebrate all together, and I think it was fun to see how we all were able to make the best of this situation that isn’t the best.”
Sweden native Karmen Kodia said the drive-in graduation, despite not being conventional, still gave her the chance to participate in the American tradition that she had been looking forward to.
“It was really a good experience for me as something I’ll never forget,” she said.
Kodia said she and her classmates were frustrated when BYU announced the cancellation of formal graduation ceremonies because they wanted to celebrate their hard work with each other and with their family and friends. But the drive-in ceremony still allowed them to celebrate safely.
“It was pretty creative and a smart way to celebrate our ending of studies, but at the same time apply the social distancing restrictions that the government has told us to do,” she said.
Though Kodia’s family was originally planning on traveling from Sweden to physically attend her graduation, they were still able to see her “walk,” give a speech and participate with her classmates in a final “Newsline” cheer, which they do each time they end their newscast.
“It was fun for me that my family was able to look to watch it at the same time,” she said. “They weren’t able to be here physically … but thanks to technology, they could at least see something.”