The pandemic forced drive-thru graduation celebrations, but they may become a tradition at Gateway High School

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AURORA | Friday morning marked another year of drive-thru end-of-year celebrations at Gateway High School in Aurora.

Groups of seniors waved from truck beds, hung out of windows and cheered through sunroofs in brightly-decorated cars decked out in orange and black, the school’s colors. Groups of teachers and families cheered from the sidelines, waving pom-poms and noisemakers.

The event was DJ’s by the Drop 104.7, and seniors got free food from Chick-fil-A.

Andrea Hernbloom and her family came out to cheer her brother Erick Covington wearing matching shirts with a photo of him and other members of the school’s football team, which went to its first state championship this year.

“We’re so proud of him,” said Hernbloom. “He’s overcome a lot of adversity.”

For some students it was their first time seeing their teachers in person this school year, as many seniors chose to stay remote for the whole school year. The reunion was emotional for teachers and students alike, some of whom hugged after spotting each other across the lot.

“I just feel so proud of them,” said teacher Nicole Burdick. “It makes me feel hopeful because I know who’s going out into the world and what they’re capable of.”

“This is a big moment for our community,” said Jazmin Lopez, Gateway’s dean of students for the 12th grade, who organized the celebration. 

Some of the students are the first in their families to graduate high school, so it means a lot for them to be able to be recognized for all their hard work, she said.

The drive-thru celebration started last year after the coronavirus pandemic forced schools online and canceled graduations across the country. Gateway created the event as a socially distant way to celebrate the students’ achievements.

It was so popular that the school now plans to make it an annual tradition even after COVID is a thing of the past, principal Ronald Fay told the Sentinel.

“It’s a great way to send off our seniors,” he said, acknowledging the 265 graduating students haven’t had an easy year.

“This isn’t the way they wanted their senior year to be, but they adapted,” he said. “Today is a celebration of a really tough year.”

Like the rest of APS’ schools, Gateway will also have an actual graduation ceremony for all its students over the summer at the APS Stadium.

Students agreed that the drive-thru would make a good Gateway tradition.

“It feels blissful, happy, like I made it,” said senior Cole Lynn. Lynn said that he started working once school went remote and that balancing his job and schoolwork was a challenge, but he’s happy that he graduated.

“This is amazing right here,” said Covington. “It was great to see everyone cheer us on.”

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