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Laguna Beach High seniors drive in as students, leave as graduates

A graduate waives to friends as he drives up to the Laguna Beach High School drive-through graduation at Guyer Field.
A graduate waives to friends as he drives up to the Laguna Beach High School drive-through graduation at Guyer Field on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

At the corner of Legion Street and Park Avenue in Laguna Beach Thursday, a parade of cars passed by, some with fluorescent markers decorating their windows, others with balloons and streamers.

One car had a cardboard cutout of a student’s face pasted to the front of it with two, golden numbers that marked off the year.

One-by-one, each car turned left toward Laguna Beach High School’s Guyer Field, where about 254 graduating seniors received their diplomas amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Originally meant to be a virtual celebration, the high school pivoted toward holding a drive-through graduation ceremony after receiving guidance from the Orange County Health Care Agency. Students entered in a series of about 25 waves, organized alphabetically by last name. Graduating seniors took photos individually near the entrance where cars entered onto a black-carpeted promenade on the field’s track.

Seniors walked a short distance to pick up their diplomas before taking another photo on a stage surrounded by white and maroon balloon decorations before getting back into their cars and exiting the stadium.

Graduate Andrew Shutts, right, laughs as he is met by his cheering aunt, Judy DeCoudres, left.
Graduate Andrew Shutts, right, laughs as he is met by his cheering aunt, Judy DeCoudres as they exit the Laguna Beach High School drive-through graduation at Guyer Field on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

"[Graduation] gives students some recognition, knowing anything we do is kind of a consolation,” Laguna Beach High Principal Jason Allemann said, “but these kids have been thrown an unwelcome and an unwarranted obstacle like what we’re dealing with in this pandemic and it’s just important to recognize their accomplishments in some way, shape or form.”

Avalon Brice said she was excited to graduate but added that it was upsetting that her class had to do so under the pandemic. She said she was thankful that the school had switched to a drive-through ceremony as opposed to an online one.

“I just feel like it’s an amazing experience to be able to experience this ... eventful thing in our life with other people even under a pandemic,” Brice said. “I just feel that we have a small enough class compared to other high schools in our area. I just feel like we are grateful and fortunate to do this compared to other districts.”

“It’s very emotional. I’m first-generation, so ... I’m glad I got to be here when my parents came from nothing,” Hailey Cortez said, her voice wavering.

Graduate Dylan Davis is congratulated by Coach John Shanahan as he exits the Laguna Beach High drive-through graduation.
Graduate Dylan Davis is congratulated by football coach John Shanahan as he exits the Laguna Beach High School drive-through graduation at Guyer Field on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I thought it was great. The school did the best they could to plan and I think it ... couldn’t have gone any better,” Hailey said. “I think it was great to see ... a lot of the teachers that I had, so I think online wouldn’t do it justice. I think this was better than online since I got to see other people and my family got to also experience what it was like [to graduate].”

Peri Brennan said she was super excited and wanted to say a “big thank you” to all the teachers for making a drive-through graduation possible. Caden Capobianco said that he felt that “it’s been a long time” in high school but he felt accomplished and was glad to see his teachers again in-person after distance learning for much of his last semester at Laguna Beach High.

For Jack Crawford, he said couldn’t believe that high school went so quickly.

“I’m happy to finally be done and I’m excited to see what the future has in hold for me,” Crawford said. “It’s a lot of mixed emotions. Sad, that it’s all over. High school’s over. Can’t get it back, but I’m happy that I made it through."

“I think this was amazing for them to do,” Crawford said. “Our whole senior year, the second half just got completely ruined. We didn’t have anything. So for them to do this instead an online [graduation] was a huge difference in my opinion. This made it seem like they actually care because they do.”

The ceremony continued into the afternoon, and on a cloudless June day, Laguna Beach High said goodbye to its class of 2020.

Graduate Andrew Fink, walks along side his grandpa's 1932 Ford hot rod at the Laguna Beach High drive-through graduation.
Graduate Andrew Fink, walks alongside his grandpa’s 1932 Ford hot rod, as he participates in the Laguna Beach High School drive-through graduation at Guyer Field on Thursday. The car overheated so they decided to push it instead.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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