The setting for Delaware Hayes High School’s 2020 commencement was unprecedented, but the spirit among participants was undaunted, district leaders said.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, graduates wearing caps and gowns arrived at the high school May 23 with their families in a parade of vehicles to receive their diplomas from school officials wearing masks.

Delaware City Schools public information officer Jennifer Ruhe said, just as in a traditional graduation, families displayed a wide range of emotions.

“The cars were decorated and many honked their horns, cheered and applauded as their graduate received his or her diploma,” Ruhe said.

“We also saw our fair share of parents shedding a few tears. Many were happy tears knowing their student had completed an important milestone in their life, and some parents were watching their last child receive his or her high school diploma,” she said.

Hayes principal Ric Stranges said while the commencement was anything but typical, the efforts of district staff “helped to celebrate the tremendous class of 2020 in a very different, joyful, grateful and memorable way.

“To see the smiles on our graduates’ faces, surrounded by their families and our staff, reinforced our sense of community and pride that will stay with me for many years to come,” he said.

Hayes’ 468 graduates arrived at the ceremony in four waves arranged alphabetically, Stranges said.

Ruhe said the Delaware County Fairgrounds served as a staging area for the commencement, with vehicles lining up for the drive to the high school.

“Each graduate was given a name card to place in the windshield of the car and this card was given to our staff when the car arrived to Hayes to announce the student’s name at the diploma station,” she said.

The first diploma was presented at 10 a.m. and the last around 12:15 p.m., she said.

Stranges said the atmosphere was festive and family-oriented.

“The student vehicles were decorated with good wishes and next destinations,” he said.

“Smiles were prevalent all morning.”

He added the ceremony was boosted by the collaboration of city officials, local police, fire and health departments and Delaware businesses.

“While it was not a traditional ceremony, our graduation was truly a wonderful experience,” Ruhe said. “The Hayes staff, students and families were truly amazing in creating a safe, yet memorable event.

“We are certainly proud of the class of 2020 and we are grateful to the many community partners who made the entire event possible,” she said.

Stranges earlier said the 2020 diplomas had been printed with the graduation date and placed in storage before the pandemic hit Ohio, so the school district was committed to handing them out on time.

The commencement plan was approved by the city of Delaware and the Delaware General Health District.

Health district commissioner Shelia Hiddleson said Delaware City Schools Superintendent Heidi Kegley reached out to her to discuss graduation plans.

“I believe that DCS has done a very good job finding a way to honor their graduates and keep them safe,” Hiddleson said.

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