A week in high school graduations: Drive-in theater, dressed-up bus, Land of Illusion and more

In the modern era of Ohio schools, no group of seniors ever graduated in so many different ways as the Class of 2020.

State-ordered social distancing brought on by the spreading coronavirus scuttled long-standing high school commencement ceremonies.

ExploreMORE: High school graduations: What Butler, Warren county schools are planning

And in recent days, some Butler and Warren county school districts used a variety of novel approaches unimaginable until recently.

These included virtual ceremonies, a drive-in celebration for Hamilton, a vehicle caravan at the Land of Illusion attraction for Madison and door-to-door ceremonies at more than 800 homes of graduates including a decorated school bus sporting a giant graduation cap and tassel and hand-delivered diplomas by the superintendent in Mason.

It was all memorable, said Mason High School senior Sailor Gibson.

“The bus coming by, I’ll never forget that. I think Mason has done a great job at making me feel celebrated,” she said.

ExplorePHOTOS: Mason hand-delivers diplomas to seniors’ homes in unique graduation

For decades, Mason and other area school districts rented out venues – the school usually holds its graduation at Xavier University’s Cintas Center - for thousands to celebrate high school commencements.

Some districts still have tentative dates for mass, in-person commencements during the summer, pending possible approval by health officials.

Tracey Carson, spokeswoman for Mason Schools, accompanied dozens of school officials and teachers as they delivered diplomas to the teenagers’ homes.

“These students earned this moment, and while we knew it wasn’t going to be possible to put 881 grads together and celebrate, we knew we could personalize and make a series of moments,” Carson said.

Many stops became neighborhood events with dozens of non-family members watching and cheering.

“Some of my favorite things today have been seeing neighbors all coming out to celebrate the grads. It was truly special, Carson said.

Hamilton High School graduates and their families got top billing on the Holiday Auto Theatre Drive-In marquee Wednesday and Thursday night as their cars rolled in and parked to watch a big-screen broadcast of the school’s virtual commencement that included speeches, awards and enthusiasm.

ExplorePHOTOS: Hamilton seniors celebrate graduation at Holiday Auto Theatre drive-in

“Just to end it online, it’s a bit of a stinker to end it online,” said Hamilton senior Jadelynn Young. “At the same time, it’s a little less stressful.

“But it all works out in the end. I’ve always wanted to go to the drive in and I’ve always wanted to graduate – so two in one. It’s great.”

Middletown High School also saw officials go the virtual route for its graduation broadcast. Students and family were then invited to drive to the school campus Thursday – with many students wearing caps and gowns - to pick up their diplomas and cheers from school officials and teachers.

ExplorePHOTOS: Middletown graduates receive diplomas in drive-thru event

Middletown senior Malik Anderson described the last months of his senior year of remote learning as “pretty heart-breaking.”

“I’m actually upset I didn’t get to say my last goodbyes,” Anderson said.

Friday evening saw hundreds of graduates from Madison High School drive with their families in a caravan through the Land Of Illusion attraction in Madison Township. Graduates were allowed to exit their cars and step on to a stage to receive their diplomas.

Hamilton senior Seth Vauter said he appreciated the novel approach of school officials.

“This is really creative and I’m glad we’re able to have something,” said Vauter. “Everybody is here and everybody is having a blast. They (school officials) tried their best.”

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