There hasn’t been much joy during this spring of the COVID-19 pandemic. High school seniors and eighth-graders alike missed significant milestones and felt that the school year was ending more with a whimper than a bang. 

Most graduations have been virtual in this year of the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. But officials at Riverside-Brookfield High School and Komarek School in North Riverside were determined to give their graduates a rousing in-person sendoff while still respecting social distancing guidelines.

Both schools hosted ceremonies last week that brought joy and smiles to the faces of graduates and proud family members.  

RBHS held what officials called a graduation celebration on Friday. It started off with about 50 teachers and staff leading a car caravan on a route through Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside. 

Then the graduates started arriving at the school in cars driven by family members. The cars continued coming for nearly three hours and were routed first into the faculty parking lot where they stopped at a table, where graduates showed their names and received their diplomas and senior awards through the car window. 

After leaving the parking lot the graduates, one by one, got out of their cars and walked across a small stage set up on Golf Road in front of the school’s auto shop. 

Principal Hector Freytas handed each graduate a diploma cover as six of the seven District 208 school board members standing behind the stage applauded. 

Proud parents and other family members snapped photos from their cars while a recording of “Pomp and Circumstance” played in the background.

“By the honking of the horns and by the smiles, it was a fantastic day,” Freytas said as the celebration came to an end. “There was joy in the air.”

After posing for a photo in a photo tent, each graduate then got right back into the family car and drove off as teachers and other staff, lining both sides of Golf Road, waved and cheered. Band director James Baum serenaded them with a soprano saxophone.

Students seemed pleased with the chance to walk across a stage in their caps and gowns.

“I’m really glad that they did this,” said RBHS, graduate Sophia Bowie, of Brookfield, after her walk across the stage. “It was a chance to be honored and see our teachers one last time.”

Bowie, who was one of the top 10 students academically in the graduating class, is planning on attending Georgia Tech University in the fall.

District 208 school board member Bill Durkin had a special moment when he got to hand his daughter, Molly, her diploma cover and hug her on stage.

“It’s one of the coolest days of my life,” Durkin said. “I couldn’t help but cry; I think it’s the Irish in me.”

District 208 school board President Wes Smithing was also pleased by how the celebration, which was only organized days before the event, came off. 

“This was a fun event,” Smithing said. “It was really cool.”

All but 30 of the 378 graduates came to the school to pick up their diplomas in person and walk across the stage. A couple of students arrived in stretch limousines. Most arrived in cars decorated with signs and balloons. All seemed happy. 

Friday evening RBTV aired a more formal virtual graduation ceremony featuring speeches by District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis, Smithing, Freytas, and three graduates — student government president Taylor Jurgens, Kathe Pribyl Pierdinock and Rahim Kouferidji. Youth motivational speaker Mike Smith gave what would normally have been considered the keynote address

Afterward, Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Kylie Lindquist read out the names of all the graduates as their senior photos flashed across the screen.