Commencement looked much different from year’s past for the classes of 2020 and 2021.
Graduates and their families and friends drove their cars into rows in front of a stage set up at Fairplex in Pomona instead of making the usual trek from parking lots on campus to the quad.
Rather than watching Commencement from neatly positioned chairs on patches of green grass, loved ones pulled camp chairs out of the trunks of their cars, stood in truck beds or peered out from the windows of their vehicles. They unfurled congratulatory signs and tapped them to car windows and tied bunches of balloons to car door handles.
Commencement was different — masked faces, a different venue, celebration of two classes — all thanks to an unprecedented year gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of eight ceremonies over three days, Cal Poly Pomona celebrated the Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 in 20 ceremonies over four days, May 20-23.
But what remained the same was the exuberant celebration of the graduates as they crossed the stage, the hugs between friends who forged bonds over several years of library study sessions, club meetings and residence hall hangouts. Family and extended family—as many as their cars, trucks and vans could hold—beamed with the usual pride.
For Emylia Rodriguez (’21, psychology), to be able to have some sort of commencement, even an atypical one, was important to her.
“I love it,” said Rodriguez, whose hair was dyed a perfect shade of shamrock green. “For a while, I thought they weren’t going to do anything, so I am happy about this.”
She plans to work at a rehabilitation center now that she has graduated.
Rodriguez’s mother, Celina, said the entire family is so proud and happy to see her daughter’s hard work pay off.
“We got to see the whole journey,” Celina said. “The dedication, the working under pressure, and she still persevered. It’s a feeling of overwhelming joy and happiness.”
Last spring in 2020, with the pandemic raging and health and safety protocols prohibiting large in-person gatherings, Cal Poly Pomona was forced to postpone commencement on campus. After feedback from students, who said they wanted some kind of in-person ceremony that included their loved ones, the university worked closely with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to craft plans for drive-in ceremonies that would meet state, county and CSU safety guidelines.
Dates for the drive-in commencement celebrations were announced in March 2021. Also planned for those who were unable to attend in person are virtual ceremonies on May 29 for the Class of 2020 and May 30 for the Class of 2021, both at 9 a.m. (PST).
During the drive-in ceremonies, President Soraya M. Coley encouraged the graduates to see the past year’s difficulties as a testament to their strength and steadfastness.
“It is no small thing to earn a college degree. It takes perseverance and a sense of purpose. But what you have accomplished is indeed even more,” Coley said. “To reach this goal, under uniquely challenging circumstances, demonstrates a level of commitment and resilience that will remain with you long after today. Your strength in the face of adversity now becomes part of the bedrock that will sustain you for the rest of your life. “
Highlights of the celebration included video tributes from proud parents shown on jumbo screens and a four-part harmony virtual performance of the National Anthem by music students. Families decorated their cars in honor of the graduates.
Alyssa Moran (’21, psychology) and her family came in her mom’s mint condition 1973 convertible Volkswagen Thing.
Moran said she has definitely felt the effects of the pandemic, from struggling to stay focused taking classes virtually with her younger siblings coming into her room often to getting laid off from her job working in attractions at Disneyland. The day of the commencement ceremony, she received a call asking her to return to work, she said.
The support she received at Cal Poly Pomona helped her get over the finish line, she said.
“I feel fortunate to have had the professors I have had,” Moran said. “The professors are willing to help students. It’s very reassuring.”
Aurelio Pedroza (’21, visual communication design), said graduating hardly felt real, but he appreciated the journey he took to get there and the opportunity to celebrate in-person with his loved ones. He plans to look for work as a designer.
“This is an unbelievable experience,” said Pedroza, who posed for photos with his family before they settled into their folding chairs to watch the festivities. “It’s a little surreal, but I am excited for the future. You put so much effort into learning and honing your skills. Now, I am ready to apply them.”
Watch Video of the Drive In Ceremonies: http://video.cpp.edu/streaming/commencement.php
Photo Galleries from the Drive-In Ceremonies:
- Don B. Huntley of Agriculture
- College of Business Administration
- College of Education and Integrative Studies
- College of Engineering Class of 2020, College of Engineering Class of 2021
- College of Environmental Design
- The Collins College of Hospitality Management
- College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences
- College of Science