PENDLETON — As decorated cars, trucks and SUVs wound their way around the Blue Mountain Community College campus in Pendleton, spectators cheered and “Pomp and Circumstance” blared over car radios as nearly 100 graduates and their families took part in the college’s drive-thru commencement ceremony on Thursday, June 11.
First in line, behind the BMCC Timberwolf, were Sue Holden and her son Allan Holden in their decorated SUV. While many parents and families attended the graduation ceremony to cheer on their graduates, Sue attended the graduation ceremony to graduate alongside her son.
Sue was laid off as a result of COVID-19 and used her newfound unemployment as an opportunity to return to school to finish her degree in general studies.
“I thought, no better time than now,” said Sue Holden. “I had one class to finish and I’ve had that for quite some time.”
As for the graduation experience, both Holdens said they enjoyed the alternative format and the opportunity to cross the stage together.
“I’m perfectly fine not having to stand up in front of a big crowd,” said Allan. “It’s really cool that we are able to do something in the middle of all this.”
Allan graduated with his Associates of Arts Oregon Transfer (AAOT) degree and will continue his education at Eastern Oregon University in pursuit of a history degree. Allan said he felt as though it was a unique opportunity to graduate alongside his mom.
“It’s a little weird, but it’s kind of cool at the same time,” he said.
Despite the unique ceremony, both Holdens felt as though the experience would be one to remember.
“We really love it,” said Sue Holden. “They’ve done a really nice job.”
While BMCC’s graduation ceremony typically draws between 130 and 150 graduates, the 96 participating in Thursday’s ceremony were more than initially expected, according to Casey White-Zollman, vice president of college relations and advancement at BMCC.
The BMCC Class of 2020 includes 335 graduates between the age of 17 and 63, including 114 graduating with honors, seven veterans and 22 local high school students.
During his welcome address, BMCC President Dennis Bailey-Fougnier thanked the students and staff for their flexibility throughout the last term as the school worked to navigate COVID-19 as well as recognizing the many additional responsibilities that the college’s students have.
“Our amazing students persevered and kept going by moving with flexibility and a tremendous amount of patience,” he said. “This determination through adversity will serve these graduates well in life.”
In addition to thanking the students for their perseverance Bailey-Fougnier acknowledged the unusual graduation proceedings as the school celebrated its 58th annual commencement.
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our students and their remarkable achievements,” he said in his speech.
Among those juggling additional responsibilities during her time in college was Brittany Easley of Pendleton. Easley, a mother of three, spent the last several months home schooling two of her children while working to finish out her degree as a veterinary assistant.
“It’s been a little chaotic,” she said. “I love all the teachers, they’ve been awesome.”
Easley said that she will start online classes at Colby College to work toward becoming a veterinary technologist in the near future.
Also looking toward additional schooling is Luis Castro, of Umatilla, who graduated with his AAOT degree and will begin at Oregon State University in the fall, where he plans to study kinesiology. Castro, who was joined by numerous members of his family, felt as though the graduation offered him a chance at closing out his chapter at BMCC.
“It’s just something to show that the hard work has paid off,” said Castro.
For Catherine Barkley, Thursday’s graduation was about more than just herself. Barkley, who earned a degree in business administration, is a first generation college graduate, an experience she hopes her kids will be able to experience.
“It’s a big deal, that was my main goal, for my kids to see me graduate because I’m almost 40,” said Barkley. “It’s a big deal for me, it’s my purpose.”
Barkley felt as though the drive-thru graduation experience allowed her to be closer to her family throughout the ceremony, something she hopes will inspire her children.
“I kind of preferred it over the typical, traditional graduation,” she said. “It’s exciting and it’s fun fun that I get to express myself and have my family here.”