DUHS graduates seniors with drive-thru ceremony

DOWAGIAC — Saturday morning, cars lined up outside of Dowagiac Union High School as the opening notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” began to play over a loudspeaker.

Soon, high school seniors donning black caps with orange tassels began to peek their heads outside of the car windows, some waving to their classmates. Passersby honked their horns and held up signs as a way of saying congratulations to the Class of 2020.

Saturday, DUHS hosted a drive-thru graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020. The drive-thru was planned as high school was unable to host a typical graduation ceremony, which is traditionally hosted at Chris Taylor Alumni Field, due to safety restrictions put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For the ceremony, students and their families drove up to the gym at DUHS. The graduate would then get out of their car and receive their diploma from school administrators. Following the ceremony, a parade for the seniors was hosted along DUHS’s homecoming route.

Though graduating seniors were unable to give their traditional speeches at the ceremony itself, DUHS staff recorded a commencement ceremony, including addresses, which was released on the district’s YouTube channel. Though their speeches were unique, each of the student speakers talked about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on their senior year.

In her speech, salutatorian Jossalyn Rogalski congratulated her classmates on making it through a harder-than-expected senior year.

“We did it, even though it is a bit unconventional,” she said. “We are so lucky to be able to graduate through the madness of the pandemic. No matter what happens to our class, I know we will all be connected in spirit because an event like this happening to us all.”

Following Rogalski, valedictorians Matthew Nelson and Nicole Whan spoke.

“The Class of 2020 is easily the most resilient, adaptable class Dowagiac has ever seen,” Nelson said, before encouraging his classmates to look beyond the difficulties they’ve faced to the future. “Use this experience going forward. Don’t base your future on possibilities and probabilities, but rather think of what you want your future to consist of and pursue it.”

In her speech, Whan, a first-year student at DUHS, thanked her teachers and fellow student for making her senior year great even though it was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also spoke about the things she has learned during high school.

“Congratulations to my fellow graduates on surviving high school,” she said. “Thank you for making me feel welcome.”

Following Saturday’s drive-thru graduation, DUHS principal Kelly Millin said she believed the ceremony went well and was a way to celebrate the students, who had much of their senior year celebrations taken from them by COVID-19.

“We’ve been thinking of ways to have different celebrations, like we painted the soccer field for [the graduates] with their names,” Millin said. “It may not be traditional, but we wanted this to be a fun celebration for them.”

As the graduates prepared to parade through town with the tassels on their caps moved to the side, Millin said she was proud of what the Class of 2020 was able to accomplish.

“These are good kids, who I know will do good and positive things,” she said. ‘They are going to do great things in their futures.”