SIERRA VISTA — They arrived decorated with blue and white balloons, colorful congratulatory messages, sparkly signs and posters. The long procession of vehicles started lining up early on Fighting Colt Drive in celebration of the Buena High School Class of 2020 graduation Thursday and Friday afternoon.

“A drive-through graduation ceremony is not what our class had in mind, but COVID-19 changed everything for us,” Devinity Hernandez said from her perch in the window of her family’s Jeep. “Even though it’s disappointing that we can’t have a traditional graduation, I’m very appreciative of how our school went out of the way to make this a special day for us. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m really happy by all this.”

The two-part graduation began on Thursday by celebrating the students whose last names started with the letters A through L, followed by M through Z on Friday. Graduates wore their Buena blue caps and gowns and were transported to different points across the high school campus in a vehicle where they were greeted by cheering faculty and staff, including elementary and middle school employees from across the district.

When they arrived in front of the high school building, graduates stepped out of their vehicle and walked onto a stage to receive their diploma one at a time, in keeping with social distancing guidelines. Parents and family members remained in their vehicles, with some leaning out of doors or windows for photos, while others stood through sunroofs. Pickup trucks with sofas and armchairs created comfortable seating for cheering family members.

As the first senior in line on Thursday, Victor Brakebill kicked off Buena’s graduation.

“We got here around 1:45 because we wanted to be toward the front of the line, but we didn’t expect to be first,” said Brakebill, who spoke briefly about his high school experience. “When I started here as a freshman, it was a bit overwhelming because of the size of the school. But I got used to it and all four years at Buena have been a good experience for me.”

Signs and posters were mounted on the fence leading into Buena, the front lawn was filled with a mass collection of yard signs bearing a photo of each graduate, all 475 of them.

The signs can be picked up by the graduates’ families on Monday at Buena.

“I really like the way everyone worked to make this graduation special for us,” said Dayvion Carrasco, who plans to go into the nursing program at Cochise College. “They obviously put a lot of effort into this so we could have a meaningful graduation celebration.”

Similar comments of appreciation were heard throughout the two-day event.

“I was just blown away by all the work that went into the whole celebration,” Sierra Vista Unified School District Governing Board President Barbara Williams said on Saturday.

“The entire event represented a massive effort by Buena staff, district employees and the community. We have had an immense number of positive responses from families and graduates,” she said, adding, “Every parent got to be in the front row when their graduate went across the stage.”

Summing up the entire event as “an amazing experience” Buena Principal Kristen Hale said the graduation has received a flood of positive reaction from the community.

“We’ve obviously never done this before and I couldn’t be more pleased by the excitement and energy from everyone,” she said. “I’m so proud of our staff that made this possible, the graduates that were driving through, the parents and families. We wanted to make sure this graduation was super special and everyone across the district worked very hard to make that happen for our graduates.”

As an added touch, SVUSD faculty and staff were parked throughout the student parking lot and along Charleston Road, cheering the graduates as they drove by in their vehicles.

Project Graduation representatives handed each graduate an envelope with four gift cards.

As she gazed out across the front of Buena High School prior to the start of Thursday’s ceremony, SVUSD Superintendent Kelly Glass praised district staff and the community for a “beautifully organized event.”

“This team has worked so many hours to create a memorable celebration for our graduates and I couldn’t be more proud,” Glass said.

“I’m so impressed with the final result. The community has come together for this, and it has been really amazing to see all the details that have gone into the entire event. We wanted to have a wonderful celebration for our graduates in spite of COVID-19, and I believe we were able to do that.”

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