Cal Poly Pomona will celebrate the academic achievements of its Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 with 20 in-person, drive-in commencement ceremonies over four days, May 20-23.
The Class of 2021 is the largest graduating class in university history with just more than 7,400 students. The Class of 2020 has 6,153 graduates.
At the drive-in event at Fairplex in Pomona, graduates will be able to walk across the stage, receive a diploma cover, get their official photo taken and celebrate with family and friends. Each graduate is allowed to bring one car of family and/or friends.
Cesar A. Cruz Amaya, who will earn a degree in English education, knew he wanted to see and be with friends for graduation. However, he wasn’t too excited about the initial in-person, but stay-in-your-car event.
“I quickly realized that this ceremony wasn’t so much to just celebrate my accomplishments but also to celebrate everyone who had my back throughout my journey,” Amaya said. “When I found out that we would be able to get out of our cars and walk on stage, my attitude changed and I am excited about it now. The first people I told were my parents over dinner and they were both really excited. I say that they both are graduating with me because they have witnessed the good, the bad, the ugly and the wicked times of no sleep.”
Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 graduates have experienced a roller coaster of emotions and multiple changes to COVID-19 protocols over the past year. When the drive-in events were announced in March of this year, Los Angeles County and Fairplex protocols did not allow for graduates to exit their vehicles. In April, the university announced that graduates could exit their cars and walk across the stage. This week, the university received the green light to allow guests to sit outside their cars, as long as they wear face coverings and don’t congregate with other groups. Graduates can also remove their mask for a photo op.
Courtnee Owens, a communication senior, will attend the ceremony with her mom and brother and also carry a large photo of her dad, who passed in December, so he can accompany the family in spirit.
“Although not like a normal commencement ceremony, I’m actually really excited that we’ve been given the opportunity to have a drive-in commencement ceremony with approval to cross the stage after worrying we weren’t going to be able to have anything! I’m really grateful that Cal Poly Pomona is working hard to make sure 2020 and 2021 grads are recognized for our accomplishments,” Owens said.
Celebratory videos and congratulation messages from families will greet graduates and their guests as they enter the venue. Festive decorations will adorn the stage and large LCD screens will show closeups of the ceremony and videos of speakers. Student names will be broadcast on loudspeakers and through the car radio.
More than 5,500 students will participate in the unique celebrations, which are organized by college and some also further divided by majors to allow for physical distancing at the venue. University President Soraya M. Coley and Provost Sylvia Alva will attend each ceremony and address graduates and guests. Each college dean will also be present.
Amaya is ready. He’ll be wearing a mortar board decorated with butterflies that reads: “My dreams are bigger than your borders.”
“Decorating my cap is a way of expressing how much my accomplishment means to me and to my family,” he said. “My friends and I had been talking about decorating our caps since the beginning of the semester, and it did not start happening until it really hit us that this was it. We all have our different messages that represent each and everyone of us and what will be happening in our futures.”
Cal Poly Pomona will also hold two virtual events, one for 2020 and one for 2021, the following weekend. The virtual events will be available to the public, including those who do not live locally or who, because of the pandemic, are unable to participate in a live ceremony.
In non-pandemic times, the university held eight ceremonies, one per college, over three days in the University Quad. Without social distancing requirements, each on-campus ceremony accommodated up to 12,000 people.