St. John Valley

Madawaska drive-in graduation packs the lot

MADAWASKA, Maine — Honking, flashing lights, and yells spread throughout the Skylite Drive-In on June 11, when the Madawaska High School Class of 2020 debuted their graduation movie to more than 180 vehicles. 

After the school sent out surveys to the students, parents and the school’s teachers, staff and  administrators found that the most desired option for a graduation celebration was a pre-taped graduation to be shown at Skylite Drive-In in Madawaska.

The Friday prior to graduation, in the gym, students sat six feet apart, spaced perfectly on the bleachers as they waited for instructions from teachers and staff, who had taken off their educator hats and become stage directors.

Students are spaced six feet apart to follow guidelines as they await instructions from their teachers. (Morgan Mitchell)

No one was allowed in the gym except for teachers and graduates, per the student’s wishes to keep some element of surprise for the parents to view. The graduation taping went off without a hitch. Colin Jandreau had a few students help with taping the graduation which had five cameras set up throughout the gym to capture different angles of the ceremony. 

The night of graduation, cars parked in rows at the Skylite Drive-in facing the screen waiting as the Madawaksa graduates made their way to the venue through town by way of a graduation motorcade. 

Police escorted the graduate vehicle procession and made sure to direct traffic so everyone could turn into the drive-in safely. 

When all the vehicles were parked, and after the sun finally set, the graduation reel started rolling. 

acob Pelletier, one of the Madawaska graduates, hangs out of the car as he waits for the graduation movie to start. The back of the car: “Blaze your own trail. Toilet paper needed.” (Morgan Mitchell)

The movie showed the graduate procession into the gym, contained speeches from students, teachers and principal Wayne Anderson, showed each graduate walking across the stage, displayed the senior slide show and anything else that is in the traditional Madawaska graduation ceremony. 

“As parents, it was hard not to be there in person to see our children accept their diplomas, but watching on the big screen was the second best thing,” said mother of Kara Gendreau, Paula. “If you look at it by watching it at the drive-in, you could see the students up close and could hear every word of the speeches, awards and scholarships and it was more comfortable seating in our cars.” 

Class president Kara Gendreau was one of the people who spoke during the taping and showing of the graduation. 

“If you would’ve told me last year, while running for president, that I would be giving a speech to a practically empty gym with masks on, 6 feet apart from everyone all because of a pandemic– I probably would’ve laughed,” Gendreau said in her speech. “I think we can all agree that these past few weeks have been challenging.”

For every student who walked across the stage on screen, honks and hollers could be heard throughout the drive-in grounds. Some people flashed lights to show support. Considering how the audio for the graduation was being blasted through each car’s individual radio, the honks and hollers didn’t take away from the graduation tape. 

“Graduation at the Drive In worked out really well,” Gendreau said. “It was fun to watch ourselves graduate while with some of our closest friends and family.”

Gendreau said being able to watch the graduation made it possible for her to enjoy it with her family and friends and reminisce on memories from the younger years. 

“Although the circumstances weren’t the best, it was still super special and I’ll always be grateful for everything that MHS has done for us,” Gendreau said. 

At the end of graduation, Officer Ryan Albert of the Madawaska Police Department stayed behind to help remind everyone to turn on their headlights while leaving the drive-in. 

The Skylite Drive-in declined to comment on the event. 

Paula said that Project Graduation still happened after the graduation ceremony, where the former students had a blast talking about their school years together over s’mores.

“The Class of 2020 made the best of the pandemic and didn’t let it ruin one of the best nights of their lives,” Paula said.

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