Marquette High School began a big week of "new normal" Rockwood high school graduations Monday night with a drive-in ceremony in the parking lot of POWERplex STL, formerly the St. Louis Mills Mall. Graduates' chairs were socially distanced to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Many wore protective masks in addition to their caps and gowns. Families parked their cars in the parking lot and tailgated in front of or behind their vehicles while watching the graduation ceremony.
A state-of-the-art stage at one end of the parking lot was flanked by big screen television monitors that could be seen from blocks away. Video cameras projected images of the graduation ceremony on the screens for all to see.
"I think the setup is excellent," said Chelsea Flenoid, mother of Gregory Flenoid III. "It appears very well thought out. We have a very good location, and every vantage point is a good spot."
Gregory's father, Gregory II, said, "I think it's unique. It goes with 2020 to make a different, new statement for these graduations. It's nothing like my graduation, but it could be the future."
From the podium, Marquette Principal Dr. Steve Hankins served as master of ceremonies, greeting those in attendance and congratulating graduates and their families.
"This year has been unique, to say the least, an unprecedented year for any graduating class," said Hankins. "The grace, determination, and perseverance all of you have shown over the last two months is an inspiration to everyone here tonight celebrating your accomplishments. I believe that you will emerge from this time stronger than ever and build upon this moment and use it as the next step in your journey to success."
Rockwood Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles told those in attendance, "As I have interacted with members of the Class of 2020 this year, I have been thoroughly impressed with your commitment to excellence, your support of our community and your compassion for others. From the classroom to the community, you represent the very best of our school and our district."
Whenever there was applause at the conclusion of a speaker's comments, it was joined by a chorus of car horns because family members in their vehicles listened on car radios.
Marquette senior Austin Ohley's mother, Michelle, said, "I think it's really special for this class to be able to come together since they've been away from each other since the middle of March."
Ohley said she is glad Rockwood administrators chose this graduation method and venue.
"Yes, absolutely," she said. "It's better than nothing at all or waiting until July or August. We are out in the open air and not crammed into seats."
Austin's father, Jeff, added, "For going from having nothing to this in a short time, it's pretty impressive. It's nice being able to sit out in the parking lot next to our car and talk to other people."
The other Rockwood high school graduations are scheduled for later this week at the same venue. Eureka High takes place on June 2, Rockwood Summit on June 3, and Lafayette on June 4.