There was a whole lotta honking, cheering and flashing of car lights going on as Farmingdale State College students gathered Saturday for a drive-thru graduation celebration on campus.
Graduating students, many wearing protective masks, took the moment to let off some celebratory steam after a semester in which classes went to remote instruction in mid-March amid the coronavirus crisis. With car radios filling the campus with music, some graduates rode on the roofs of cars decorated with balloons and banners, while others couldn't help getting out of their vehicles to greet friends and take pictures.
The ceremony provided students with a chance to re-connect with friends and professors and celebrate their achievements while (pretty much) adhering to social distance protocols.
On a warm spring morning, students lined up their cars, some 500 deep, and boisterously cruised to the campus home of school president John Nader, itself decorated with a huge "Congratulations" banner. Nader announced each student's name and their major over a loud speaker. Faculty and staff lined the roads clapping and calling out their best wishes.
Christopher Kemp, 22, a business management major from Brentwood, slowly drove his Chevy Colorado, painted with black flames along its sides and decorated with bouncing balloons of green and black.
Kemp said the last months of school were a drag because he doesn't like online classes. Seeing the campus alive with activity again was a welcome sight, he said. From here, he is onto law school in the fall.
"I worked really hard for the degree, so I wanted to attend the ceremony," said Kemp, who was joined in the car with his mother, father and two sisters. "If they had held a virtual ceremony, it wouldn't have been the same. I probably would not have done anything about it."
Nader said the idea for a "car-mmencement" emerged from conversations with graduating seniors who wanted to mark this important transition in their lives. He said he also sensed their desire to come back to campus for a good time — in a safe way — after so many depressing days of COVID-19 isolation.
"The idea came from the students and I went with it," Nader said. "People want good news, people want the celebrations they can hold, and the turnout today is evidence of that."
He said he planned a more traditional graduation ceremony in December, after the virus restrictions were lifted.
The day was extra-special for Peter Spall and his family. Spall, 59, had attended Farmingdale 40 years ago, but was one class shy of earning his associate degree when he left to go to work. Years passed as he fell in love, got married, had three boys and worked 34 years for a telephone company.
But in the back of his mind, he always wanted to get that degree in recreational leadership, which today is known as sports management.
"It was my bucket list," said Spall, who lives in Jackson, New Jersey.
Early this year, Spall reached out to the college to see about crossing that finish line. School officials told him that the 21 years he spent coaching Little League qualified as "life credits" and that he could receive his degree.
On Saturday, the retiree drove his new candy-apple red Cadillac XT5, replete with balloons and a sign saying "Don't Give Up On Your Dreams," to the school and joined the line of cars.
Now, he said, he plans on pursuing a four-year degree in marketing or sports management.
"It's been 40 years," Spall said. "This is my dream come true. I'm a little emotional about it."