Buchanan Class of 2020 graduates at Redbud MX

BUCHANAN — Cars and trucks filled with proud family members filed into Redbud MX Friday evening. The gathering was not for the location’s famed motocross but instead hosted a local high school commencement.

As COVID-19 mandates and precautions kept students and families from gathering indoors together, Buchanan High School’s Principal Stacey DeMaio and Assistant Principal Brian Pruett put together the unique solution. Students and family members attended the event crossed between a drive-in theater, parade and graduation ceremony. The ceremony was a collaboration between the school and the city of Buchanan, along with donations from area businesses to create the event to allow for social distancing.

Gathering for the ceremony for the Buchanan Bucks class of 2020, music played over loudspeakers as vehicles were parked on a grassy hill. Staggered and spaced apart, the vehicles angled down a soft slope facing a stage with a large digital screen hanging over it. In addition to the loudspeakers, an FM transmitter was in place so attendees could listen to the speakers and names over car radios.

At the same time the audience was assembling, students were gathering at the high school with cars decked out in party decorations, Buchanan Bucks colors, balloons and photos. Students awaited the procession that would take them on the drive-through Buchanan to the ceremony.

Meanwhile, excited to see one another for the occasion, attendees opened vehicle windows and doors to greet one another as they waited.

Just after 6 p.m., the sounds of sirens came over the field as the Buchanan police and fire departments escorted the entire class of graduates to Redbud MX. As the vehicles snaked slowly into the staging area past the audience, graduates their wearing caps and gowns stood up out of sunroofs, in truck beds, and sat on passenger window ledges and waved to their friends and loved ones. The already parked audience of vehicles became a chorus of cheers and honks as occupants watched the class arrive.

Teachers and faculty helped guide the cars into position at one side of the stage.

DeMaio welcomed the graduates and attendees to the one-of-a-kind ceremony. She spoke to the class about the year’s challenges and encouraged the former students to continue to improve the world around them.

“You are the spark that will light the world and guide it towards a brighter, kinder and more respectful future. We could all use a little more of that in our world right now,” DeMaio said. “Take the challenges that you have faced, and will continue to face, and use them as opportunities to grow and cultivate a better world for yourself and others.”

The class of 2020’s senior speaker, Nora Kaltenbach, spent all four years of her high school career serving in the student council.

“We want to get out there,” Kaltenbach said in her speech. “The way many of us want to see the world and thirst for something more is a testimony to how well this town has brought us up.”
Kaltenbach spoke about the uncertainty of the future with excitement as the graduates take steps to create their own plans.

“I want us all to have light hearts as we go into the ambiguous ‘out there,’ because by being here today you have proven that are resilient,” she said. “You can accomplish a 12-year goal. Now you have the choice in what you do.”

Following Kaltenbach’s speech, she announced the Class of 2020’s gift to the school would be contributions to be put towards a water bottle filling station in the school.

Pruett took the mic next to begin the presentation of the class.

As Pruett announced the names of each graduate, the vehicle the graduate rode in approached the stage. After reaching the stage, the graduate got out of the vehicle and picked up their diploma on stage, and then left to get back in their vehicle at the other end.

Pruett joked about the responsible driving of the escorts as they approached the stage.

“This might be the slowest I’ve seen him move all year,” Pruett joked about senior Kelsey Brown’s approach.

As Bucks graduates crossed the stage, some traditions were still in place. In addition to commencement regalia including medals, cords and stoles, many students also decorated their mortarboards in celebration. After students received their diplomas, they parked in a clear portion of the grassy hill so that they could continue to watch and celebrate the rest of the 102 graduates.

There were cheers and honks from the audience as each diploma was received.

After nearly two hours, the ceremony was closed by Pruett.

“Class of 2020, we thank you for your contributions to your school, your community and your country,” Pruett said, acknowledging that many graduates had enlisted in branches of the military. “Good luck to you and all that you will accomplish. Remember that you are always welcome to return to the woods.”

Graduates turned their tassels at the close of the ceremony. Celebrations and photoshoots followed in smaller groups in downtown Buchanan.