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Virginia High School Celebrates Socially Distant Graduation At A Drive-In Theater


It's graduation season. Schools have had to find creative ways in these times of the coronavirus to celebrate graduates and send them into the future. This week, Goochland High School just northwest of Richmond, Va., held a ceremony in a retro location, a drive-in theater.


SIMON: Christopher Collier is principal of the school. Thank you so much for joining us, Principal.

CHRISTOPHER COLLIER: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: How'd the drive-in graduation go?

COLLIER: Oh, better than expected. Minus the rain, it was a wonderful evening of celebrating our graduates. And we've just gotten so many positive reviews from our parents and students. It's been really special.

SIMON: Wow. How'd you decide on the drive-in?

COLLIER: We just weren't seeing it opening up enough for us to be able to host a large-scale indoor graduation, and so we started exploring outdoor options. And we looked at our football field. And, honestly, the Goochland Drive-In just came up in conversation. And we said - you know what? - let's go take a look at that. And they're right in our backyard. And actually, their daughter - the owner's daughter is one of our graduating seniors.


COLLIER: So it was kind of just the perfect - I don't want to call it a storm 'cause it was more - much better than a storm, but the perfect rainbow, if you will, of things coming together. And it was a really special event inside of our county, which was really cool.

SIMON: How did you pass out diplomas?

COLLIER: What we decided to do was I would step over with the graduation diploma that had been sitting out for a long time, had been sanitized - all those things. And I would set it on the table and then back away. And the student would come by, pick it up - socially distant, 6 feet or more. And then that student would pose for a picture. And while I'm posing for a picture 6 feet behind that student - you can probably see the Facebook video, if people care to look at that. But while we're doing that, my director of school counseling, Dr. Beth Fowler, was spraying it off with Lysol.

SIMON: (Laughter).

COLLIER: It was interesting 'cause it was pouring down raining in the middle of it, so just trying to take extra precaution. I'm not sure, you know, how much that did, but we wanted to make sure that people felt comfortable. And it ended up being a lot of fun. I miss the hugs and the handshakes that I usually get, but to be able to see them in person and not have to do it virtually was just as special.


SIMON: Topped off with fireworks, I gather.

COLLIER: Yes, sir. So our all-night graduation committee, a group of senior parents, every year kind of rotates with the folks, but they do fundraisers, and they hold an all-night graduation event after our graduation. So we threw out to them, hey, would you consider purchasing fireworks for us? So they got together, and I met with them. And through a lot of hard work and conversation, they decided to celebrate the seniors. And I think that's kind of what we call the icing on the cake. It was an amazing end to the evening.

SIMON: Mr. Collier, tell us about your school. A lot of economic diversity in your community, I gather.

COLLIER: Absolutely. I mean, I call it the tale of two cities. We actually have some folks who live in really, really nice million-dollar homes, and we have folks who may not have electricity or running water from week to week. So it presents its own challenges, but it's so interesting to see how it all comes together and how everybody supports one another. It really is that small-town feel where everybody looks out for one another.

SIMON: Yeah. What did you tell your students as they head off into the larger world? What do you want them to know now?

COLLIER: Yeah. Honestly, I think that these are challenging times for us all, and there's an opportunity to make a difference. And I think that's what we always harp on. But I ultimately said in my speech to them that success isn't measured by, you know, what you have or what you can do in life, but it's how you inspire others. That's what I charge them with. I charge them with making each other better, being bold and authentic, responsible and kind. All of those things lead to success. And so that's what I left him with - to think about others as they go along the journey of life.

SIMON: Christopher Collier is the principal of Goochland High School in Virginia. Thanks so much for being with us.

COLLIER: Scott, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.