San Jose school gets creative to give seniors a special graduation ceremony

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The balloons were there. So were the home made signs. But there was something very different during this year's graduation ceremony at Overfelt High School in San Jose.

It was the parade of cars.

"They are driving with one car full of as many family members as they want to put in there. And they are picking up their senior honors and receiving their diplomas," said principal Vito Chiala.

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After looking at all types of options to honor its students and stay in line with social distancing guidelines, the staff at Overfelt decided to hold an outdoor ceremony for the seniors.

The campus was transformed into a giant drive-thru for the occasion. Families drove in from one end and stopped the car in front of a stage. Students were able to get out and walk across the stage to get their diplomas from the principal and staff. Family members could take pictures and video from inside the vehicle.

It was not what students were used to seeing, but after seeing their prom and awards ceremonies were canceled, they were glad for any kind of recognition.

"I feel really emotional, but I am really happy that I got the chance to actually cross the stage," said graduating senior Samantha Cardenas.

Guadalupe Boulay had tears in her eyes as she got out of the car to get her diploma. They were tears of joy mixed with tears of anxiety.

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"I am starting a new chapter in life and it is not starting and it is not starting like how everyone else is starting, so it is a little bit scary," said Boulay.

The event was full of emotion and noise. Celebratory balloons stuck out of car windows and parents honked the horns of their cars for their children and for other graduating seniors. It had the energy everyone was craving.

"We are trying to make what we can out of the situation and make it at least somewhat special. It's like we got cheated," said Gerardo Castaneda. He had his car decorated with pictures of his son, Benjamin Castaneda.

Two hundred and seventy-give graduates drove through campus to pick up their diplomas. Some families passed by in limousines. Others crammed together in the back of pickup trucks.

Arabela Castro was one of five valedictorians. Her parents were able to step out of the car to place a special medal on her.

"It's very important because they are my support system," said Castro. "I am glad they were able to put this medal on me because this is for them."

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"Many of our students are the first ones in their families graduating from high school," said Chiala. Teachers and staff were there to make it extra special for them.

"Circumstances changed everything, but that doesn't mean we can't make it special for our students. And so all of us here are ready to cheer and excited for the kids to drive by," said Kim Leal, a teacher who cheered students as they left campus and handed them one last meal, a spicy chicken sandwich.

"It's their last meal with us. I want them to remember it."

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