Traffic in Port Townsend came to a near standstill Friday, June 12, as a parade of cars carrying Port Townsend High School’s graduating seniors made its way to the Wheel-In Motor Movie Theater …
Traffic in Port Townsend came to a near standstill Friday, June 12, as a parade of cars carrying Port Townsend High School’s graduating seniors made its way to the Wheel-In Motor Movie Theater for an unforgettable graduation ceremony.
Community members lined sidewalks along the route, holding signs and cheering graduates as they honked their way through town in cars adorned with balloons, painted messages, and flags.
For its 130th commencement ceremony, PTHS tried something a little different. Since large gatherings are still restricted, the school had its first ever drive-in graduation — where students and families sat in their cars for the program with their radios tuned in to listen.
“I’m pretty sure this will go down in the memory books as one of the most unique graduation celebrations in the history of our school,” said Principal Carrie Ehrhardt.
PTHS alumnus Rick Wiley, owner of the Wheel-In Motor Movie Theater, donated the space for the event and was more than happy to do everything needed to make it happen, Ehrhardt said.
The Wheel-In is one of five drive-in movie theaters in the state.
PTHS graduations are traditionally held in McCurdy Pavilion, a converted balloon hanger in Fort Worden State Park that seats almost 900 people. It was pretty much packed every year, Ehrhardt said. For this year’s ceremony, attendance was limited to one car per student, filling about 75 percent of the Wheel-In’s available space.
Cars slowly filed in, positioning themselves toward a makeshift stage on the back of a flatbed trailer. A slight drizzle could not dampen the air of excitement, as people on the Olympic Peninsula are used to a little rain. Instead of applause, speeches and honors were met with a flurry of honks.
Students and faculty largely reflected on what was a tumultuous second half of the school year that no one saw coming. Many students recalled they had long dreamed of their graduation at McCurdy Pavilion, and that it was just their luck it didn’t work out as planned.
“I speak for myself and for my classmates when I say that walking at graduation is something we’ve all been looking forward to for a very long time,” class president Dylan Tracer said. “Even though our class doesn’t have the luxury of walking to the stage that so many others have walked across, we still made do under the circumstances.”
Students instead looked to the future, to a world they believe they can shape infinitely, and one where anything is possible, no matter the hardship.
“We have worked hard for many years leading up to this moment, and we will prevail in our post-high school lives,” valedictorian Kincaid Gould said. “The world is facing several crises right now. But we can help fix these problems. We can achieve great things if we try.”
Orion Pendley urged his classmates to not settle for the status quo, and challenge unjust structures and institutions that make the same success they have enjoyed harder for other people. He argued it was their duty to demand change.
“For too many of us, it is easy to be silent and to forget and to watch as change is fought for. But it is our responsibility, not as a class, or as a town, or as a generation, but as people to be a part of change,” Pendley said.
Salutatorian Louis Babik said the uniqueness of the event was actually a representation of the class as whole. They stood out from the 129 graduating classes to come before them, he said, and he urged them to always retain their individuality because it would carry them to greatness.
“As a little lady and a great humanitarian, who lived her life caring for others once said, ‘Not all of us can do great things but we can do small things with great love’,” he said, quoting Mother Teresa.
Instead of the ceremonial walk across the stage, ending in a handshake and the presentation of the diploma holder, graduates stood outside their vehicles and had a holder passed to them. The red and white gowns stood out against the landscape as Ehrhart read aloud the names of the 80 graduating seniors.
Class president Dylan Tracer led the students in moving their tassels from the right side to the left. A thunder of honks marked the moment and the emergence of the 2020 graduating class.