Aspen High School planning for drive-in graduation at Buttermilk on May 30

Aspen High School's 2020 graduation will look a little different than in previous years.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a lot from Aspen High School’s class of 2020, but it’s not going to take away graduation.

At least, not all of it, with AHS planning to hold a drive-in ceremony at Buttermilk Ski Area in lieu of its traditional event inside the Benedict Music Tent for its 138 expected graduates. Still scheduled for noon May 30, the details are not finalized, but the groundwork is being put in place for an in-person graduation ceremony.

“At the end of the day, it’s better than nothing and a lot of other schools are just doing virtual, so we are really lucky in that fact,” AHS senior Lauren Fox, the student body’s head girl, said Monday. “It’s better than nothing, and virtual was worst-case scenario, so I think anything is better than that.”

Fox and AHS principal Tharyn Mulberry will host a virtual meeting with the seniors Tuesday to explain graduation. There was confusion at first, with many of the students believing it to be more like a McDonald’s drive-thru where they’d swing by and grab their diploma to go.

However, the event will function more like a drive-in movie, a concept Mulberry admitted is foreign to most teenagers these days.

“They didn’t know what a drive-in was,” Mulberry joked. “It will be just like a traditional graduation, only instead of a chair, you’ll be in a car.”

The ceremony will take place in Buttermilk’s parking lots, with a stage set up near the base of the mountain. The idea is to have students walk across the stage like normal, although in groups of no more than 10 and done with social distancing in mind. The school has been working with Aspen Skiing Co. and Pitkin County, notably County Manager Jon Peacock, to make sure everything adheres to the current safety guidelines.

Mulberry said they would broadcast the ceremony over the radio, so friends and family could easily listen in from their cars. It’s hoped they will be able to livestream the event online, as well.

Also in the works is the March of Graduates. Typically held on the seniors’ last day, the in-person march around the Aspen School District campus has turned into “a parade of cars through town.” The exact route isn’t set yet, nor is the exact date. The seniors’ last day is May 22 — the rest of the students go until June 4 — but Mulberry said they might push the March of Graduates to May 29, the day before graduation.

“If we did the parade the day before graduation, it would give us an opportunity to do a run-through for a graduation rehearsal,” Mulberry said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to do that. We could stage them from the middle school parking lot in the same configuration that they’d leave for graduation.”

The school also has plans for a drive-thru — yes, like a trip to Taco Bell — scholarship ceremony at 6 p.m. May 28. This is a by-invitation-only event to be held on the ASD campus.

It’s all part of the plan to help bring some closure to a group of seniors that certainly never thought their final months in high school would include a pandemic.

“It’s really tough on the kids. It’s tough on all of us,” Mulberry said. “I really feel for this year’s senior class. They’ve just been such a great group of kids and they put up with so many changes of circumstances. They’ve really handled this thing just with amazing heart and courage. So I’m really proud of them.”

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