Graduates gather in parking lot one for drive-in ceremony


Emily Morris

Many vehicles were decorated for graduation. All vehicles were facing toward a large screen, where all information and videos were shown in the fall graduation ceremony. All OU graduates receive a collection of benefits because of their time at OU.

In an Oakland University first, the 2020 graduates drove into parking lot one to celebrate — at last — on Friday, Aug. 28 and Saturday, Aug. 29. A traditional ceremony was rendered unsafe after OU was pushed to continue virtually in March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Roughly an entire season has passed while graduates and their families waited for a resolution to the cancelled spring commencement ceremony. Now — just a week before the fall semester begins — graduates were given some closure. 

Although rain was predicted for the majority of Friday, the showers settled enough for the ceremony to continue. According to an official OU email, the “ceremonies will take place rain or shine,” but lightning could have been a cause to cancel the ceremony without an opportunity to reschedule. Additionally, graduates, family and friends were asked to remain in the ceremony before and during the ceremony — otherwise, the event would “shut down… if too many people are out of their cars and congregating.”

Vehicles slowly swarmed to a large screen positioned near the Human Health Building — Oakland University police (OUPD) directing each family to a designated parking spot. Upon parking, the screen offered a QR code to a virtual schedule and the radio signal (102.9) with all the planned audio. 

Parking passes, graduation gowns and honorary cords were distributed prior to the event from the Office of Student Involvement. Every entrance was blocked off by cones and OUPD, ensuring the parking lot was entirely reserved for the graduates and their guests. 

The Cabar Feidh Pipes and Drums (OU’s traditional bagpipe group) kicked off the celebration by marching through parking lot one, concluding at the screen. Chief Commencement Officer Stephanie Lee explained she was most “looking forward” to hearing them. 

“The one that stands out is — of OU graduation traditions — the bagpipers… and to hear the pipers will bring me some sense of closure for the 2020 class,” Lee said. 

The first pre-recorded speaker on the screen was Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, Oakland University president. She led graduates in moving their tassel to signify the completion of their degrees. During this brief time, only graduates exited their car, and Pescovitz encouraged their supporters to congratulate them in a new way. 

“Let’s give our new bachelors a round of applause and a few horn honks too — congratulations,” Pescovitz said. 

The ceremony continued on with more prerecorded speakers that will be available to watch via OU’s website

Then graduates were offered one more chance to exit their vehicle momentarily. Vehicles were guided in a line to a stage on the opposite side of the parking lot, where graduates had a photo opportunity and could collect their diplomas. 

There are flexible plans in mind for the fall graduation ceremony as well — Lee confirmed that the format will be finalized on Oct. 1 this fall. 

This was “the only option” for a commencement ceremony at this time amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Lee. Although untraditional, there are still nostalgic elements in parking lot one. 

“This is certainly a first for Oakland University,” Lee said. “Our main goal is to ensure that all are safe and not the spreading of COVID[-19]. Also, we wanted the students to have a nice experience at graduation in a parking lot that many drove around looking for parking spaces for years.”