The Spring 2020 semester has presented several unique challenges and opportunities for most colleges and universities. Outside of the initial challenges with shifting learning to a completely online/remote format, the graduates were faced with the possibility of losing out on a graduation ceremony. Knowing that this is a landmark even in the students’ lives, Howard College looked at several options including a video ceremony and group teleconference possibility. “What we really wanted, in the end, was a way to celebrate the perseverance and success of our students,” said Dr. Cheryl Sparks, Howard College President. “We knew we needed to work within the health and safety guidelines of the state and federal government but also knew we had to find a way to celebrate these students.” Not only is the graduation ceremony tradition important for the students, it is also meaningful for the college staff and faculty who get the opportunity to watch these students take a step towards their futures and acknowledge this significant accomplishment.
In the end, Howard College decided to conduct a drive-through graduation celebration for their campuses on Thursday and Friday, May 7th and 8th. Plans were set for Howard College Big Spring, Lamesa and SouthWest College for the Deaf students to have their ceremony on the Big Spring campus while San Angelo students had a ceremony on their campus in San Angelo. Routes were set up on both campuses that would allow students to drive through a graduation line and receive their diplomas and/or certificates. The college worked with all local officials to remain within established safety guidelines for traffic control, wearing of masks and accommodating social distance.
Students were given an opportunity to participate in person or virtually. Students who attended the celebrations in person were handed their diploma/certificate while they remained in their vehicles and went through the tradition of moving their tassel from right to left. Staff and faculty were on hand to line the parking lots, with decorated cars, honking horns, and celebrating the students as they drove by. Students who wanted to participate virtually had their names, degrees, and honors read aloud while Dr. Sparks “handed” them their diploma/certificate on video.
The events were far from ordinary but to many, they carried more emotion than the standard ceremony. “It was magical,” said Sparks. “When the students and their families ‘presented’ to receive the diploma and perform the symbolic switch of the tassel, the spotlight was solely on them. You could feel their sense of pride and it was a great pleasure to be a part of this personal experience for our students. ”
Different programs also held events to honor their students in place of their traditional ceremonies. Here’s a breakdown of those celebrations and improvised ceremonies that occurred on Howard College campuses.
- Big Spring – May 8th: 61 Students participated in the drive-through celebration including students from the Big Spring, Lamesa, and SWCD campuses. Approximately 50 staff and faculty arrived to cheer the graduates on. 2 local radio stations and the Howard College Marketing Dept. provided various live broadcasts and streaming of the event to social media.
- San Angelo – May 7th: 156 students participated and approximately 60 faculty and staff. The radio station from Big Spring was on campus to broadcast to the parking lot so attendees could hear what was going on.
- Big Spring – May 8th: 8 Licenced Vocational Nurse (LVN) graduates enjoyed a parking lot pinning ceremony while practicing social distancing in front of the Anthony Hunt Library on the Big Spring campus.
- San Angelo – May 8th: 9 Radiologic Technology (RADR) graduates participated in a small outdoor pinning ceremony. The private event was attended by a few immediate family members who all practiced social distancing.