LEROY — In some ways, it was a normal graduation.

The teenagers wore caps and gowns. Most were dressed-up under their robes. Parents grinned, pressed their hands to their hearts, took photos

In other ways, it was not normal at all.

On Sunday afternoon, May 17, 2020, parents of Pine River High School graduating seniors weren’t sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the audience as their children sauntered across a stage.

Instead, they sat in their (often decorated) cars, following along at a crawl as their kids walked down the driveway at Pine River Area Schools. At the end of the driveway, near the playground used by the littlest Pine River students, the graduates received their diplomas and a balloon. They crossed the driveway for a formal portrait with the school and parking lot as a backdrop, then returned to their parents’ cars as they waited for the rest of their class to follow the same route.

It was raining, but only a little.

When the last graduate received their diploma — 67 were graduating and just about everyone had indicated they would be there, according to Superintendent Matt Lukshaitis — the students re-emerged from their parents’ cars and trucks and vans for a photo and balloon release.

They stood on spray-painted white circles, six feet apart from each other before they released their balloons and somebody on the roof of the school took their picture.

The reason for this unusual approach to high school graduation, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened and killed people across the globe, necessitating “social distancing‘ measures that mean people shouldn’t gather in crowds or be within six feet of people with whom they don’t share a household.

It means no shaking hands, no hugs, no arms-around-your-besties for a graduation photo, though, of course, some did anyway, tackling each other with gleeful hugs. It’s been weeks since they’ve seen each other, and many might be living in entirely different towns come this fall, if universities re-open on time.

Alisa Grover plans to study psychology at Eastern Michigan University. Her parents wrote her name in chalkboard paint on the family’s truck. Grover said she was excited about Sunday’s graduation celebration

“It’s a next step into my future. And I think that’s really important,‘ Grover told the Cadillac News from the passenger seat of the truck. “I definitely would have rather done it like an actual graduation but it’s understandable why we’re doing this.‘

Hunter Ashcroft, who plans to study actuarial science at the University of Michigan, agreed.

“It’s good to graduate. It feels a little bit weird because it’s not how I expected it to be,‘ Ashcroft said from his dad’s truck, this one decorated with a banner and a U of M flag. “But it’s definitely good that we can still do something.‘

The drive-by graduation was student-led, according to Superintendent Lukshaitis. The students wanted to graduate on the same day they had originally planned to, even if it meant their graduation ceremony would look a little different.

In Manton, the community took an approach that was similar in some ways and different in others.

Like Pine River Area Schools, seniors from Manton Consolidated Schools were supposed to graduate on Sunday.

But the school did not hand out their diplomas on Sunday, saying the ceremony would be held later this summer.

Instead, the community marked the day with a parade (Pine River families also drove seniors on a parade through the small towns where the students live).

Businesses gifted Manton seniors with yard signs, chocolate and ice cream.

Manton Mayor Sam Cronkhite was on hand to congratulate the soon-to-be graduates.

“It was cool to be involved with it. It was nice to see everybody out again. Holy cow!‘ Cronkhite said. “It was just a good time. There wasn’t a sour vibe out there. It was just wonderful.‘

Cadillac News