Amid the pandemic, schools, families mark graduations with out-of-the-ordinary celebrations

Area families worked to create special graduation memories  — including senior parades and drive-in theatre commencements. Above, Shawnee Mission South graduate Katie Cooper participated in a graduation parade. Photo courtesy Lisa Cooper. 

Students have sacrificed several milestones in their education following school shutdowns in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Some families and schools in the area worked to create special graduation memories  — including senior parades and drive-in theatre commencements.

Here’s how some schools, parents, and community members have navigated the celebrations during COVID-19, and also updates on upcoming ceremonies.

Shawnee Mission School District

Seniors in the Shawnee Mission School District found out just days before scheduled graduation ceremonies that commencements were being shifted from in-person to virtual celebrations.

The district put together virtual ceremonies with student speeches, the national anthem sung by socially distanced choirs, and reading of all graduates’ names.

Each school’s video is available on the graduation landing page on the Shawnee Mission School District website. 

Some 2020 graduates who attended Brookwood Elementary School — a feeder into Shawnee Mission South High School — participated in a graduation parade Courtesy photo.

The parents of Shawnee Mission South seniors who attended Brookwood Elementary School in Leawood organized a special parade with social distancing measures in place. The event kicked off at Leawood City Park and ended at Brookwood Elementary.

On Tuesday, July 14, some parents from Shawnee Mission East arranged a small graduation ceremony at Boulevard Drive-In in Kansas City, Kansas. The whole class did not participate in the ceremony, but about 150 did RSVP.

Representatives from schools, cities and organizations took to social media to congratulate graduating seniors. One notable message came from Shawnee Mission South alum Rob Riggle who gave a congratulatory shoutout to the class of 2020 on Twitter. 

“Nothing greater than a Raider,” he said, clad in some school spirit wear. “I’m so sorry that your senior year has been affected by this stupid pandemic, but you are going to graduate, you are going to go on and do wonderful things in this world — I know it for a fact. That’s what Raiders do, you’re no exception.”

The City of Prairie Village shared a story of two graduating seniors being lured outside in their caps and gowns to take a picture and being surprised with an impromptu ceremony that included Pomp and Circumstance playing from a car radio. Neighbors talked about how proud they were of the graduates and shared a video of the seniors throughout the years.

Prairie Village neighbors held an impromptu ceremony for two seniors. Photo via City of Prairie Village.

On Wednesday, July 22, seniors from Shawnee Mission North are invited to participate in a commencement at Boulevard Drive-In Theatre, 1051 Merriam Ln. It is not affiliated with the school district and people are asked to make a donation of $5 per vehicle. The gates will open at 8 p.m., but the ceremony won’t start until closer to 9 p.m.


The Blue Valley School District still intends to host outdoor, in-person commencement ceremonies on the district’s outdoor activity complexes where schools play home games.

Ceremonies at LAMDAC, 6001 W. 159th St.:

  • Blue Valley High at 9 a.m. on July 30

  • Blue Valley Southwest at 8:30 p.m. on July 30

Ceremonies at SWIDAC, 13260 Switzer Rd.:

  • Blue Valley North at 8 a.m. on July 31

  • Blue Valley Northwest at 10:30 a.m. on July 31

  • Blue Valley West at 8:30 p.m. on July 31

An additional, outdoor celebration is scheduled for Blue Valley Academy at 10 a.m. on July 29 in Ironwoods Park, 14701 Mission Rd..

All ceremonies will be livestreamed. Information about rainout plans and viewing the ceremonies remotely is available online. Parking will be limited at the events.

USD 232

DeSoto and Mill Valley high schools are still expected to host outdoor, in-person ceremonies at the Olathe District Activities Center, 20925 159th St., on July 25.

Mill Valley’s ceremony will occur at 9 a.m. and DeSoto’s will be at 7 p.m.

Tickets will not be limited, but audience members will be asked to wear masks, and high-risk individuals are asked to stay home and view the streamed ceremonies.

In the event that ceremonies need to be cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions, virtual ceremonies will be prepared, the Mill Valley graduation website says.