Virtual Pomp Under Unusual Circumstances

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Malibu High School (MHS) seniors may have missed prom and grad night, but they were given a memorable send-off with a drive-through diploma ceremony and celebrity-filled Zoom graduation. 

“We wanted to make sure our kids felt special—celebrated—despite the current circumstances,” MHS Principal Patrick Miller explained. With balloons, decorations and the beach as a backdrop, a drive-up diploma pickup took place last Tuesday. Nearly the entire class—138 of 144 graduates—participated. Miller admitted he was nervous, never having put a graduation like this together. But, he added, a team effort helped it all come together.

“I think all our students, staff and parents were impressed with how well it went,” the principal said. “The kids had their moment: got to cross the stage, got to have their picture taken. Everyone was positive. It was a great day.” 

LA County guidance required a six-foot separation between participants and also stipulated masks be worn at all times—a guideline not followed to the letter of the law. 

“We did tape on our stage where to stand. The county guidance allowed students to exit their vehicle. The guidance required masks be worn, but we were very flexible,” Miller explained, as photos have surfaced with some participants—notably, Miller himself—unmasked. Miller, however, was unable to give each graduate a traditional handshake which he admitted was a disappointment. 

“This class—I presented their promotion certificates from eighth grade to ninth [grades],” Miller said. “A lot of these kids had siblings I taught. I’ve known a lot of these kids and their families a long time. They’re special to me. I know their individual stories. I’ve seen their success and joy. So, for me not to be able to hug them or shake hands—it was hard.”

On Wednesday, the seniors’ “Final Zoom Session” occurred—a graduation ceremony of sorts. Teachers, parents and volunteers coordinated a celebrity-filled live event highlighted by a notable keynote speaker-Malibu Park Jr. High graduate Sean Penn, himself a father of an MHS alum. The actor, activist and humanitarian not only addressed the graduates on topics such as “social awakening and altruism,” the two-time Academy Award winner answered questions from the graduates as well.

Another highlight of the Zoom session was a clever video of MHS teachers tossing various objects to each other and imparting words of wisdom to the 2020 class. Various other celebrities, including Mark Wahlberg and Julia Roberts, also paid tribute to the resiliency of MHS graduates who, in the last 18 months, have endured devastating fires, social unrest and a pandemic separating them from school and friends.

A student video was included that juxtaposed earlier happier times of the class of 2020 on campus with images of campus today—eerily deserted.

“I have heard from a number of parents who thought these two celebrations were not only uniquely Malibu, but also more enjoyable and more special than their previous experiences during our traditional graduation ceremonies,” Miller expressed.

A traditional in-person graduation is still on the table for the future. Miller promised, “Whenever we can gather in person, we remain committed to having some sort of ceremony or event.”