15:51 PM

CSUSM Celebrates Class of 2020 with Unique Parade

By Brian Hiro

When the going got tough, Cal State San Marcos got creative. 

Stymied by the inability to host traditional commencement ceremonies this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, CSUSM instead dreamed up a way to give the Class of 2020 the celebratory send-off it deserved while following the safety protocols dictated by San Diego County health officials. 

The result was a unique, spirited event called Graduates on Parade, which was planned and organized by multiple departments across campus in a matter of a couple of weeks. 

To orchestrate a parade amid a pandemic, the university worked closely with county health officials and city traffic engineers. An expansive cross-divisional team went straight to work under a tight timeline, focusing on safety and security protocols, communication, technology support and event logistics.

As the first car entered the parade route on the morning of May 15, following the celebratory sirens of University Police, it was clear – this event had heart.

Nearly 700 cars slowly paraded through a designated route on campus while faculty and staff lined the route, holding homemade signs and pom-poms. They stood 10 feet apart, and though their faces were covered by masks, their cheers filled the air as they congratulated the graduates.

The one-mile parade route started at the Craven Drive main entrance to campus, where vehicles drove beneath a giant inflatable arch. Cars then turned right on Palm Canyon Drive, circling through Parking Lot F and back down Palm Canyon before proceeding through Craven Circle – where they were greeted by President Ellen Neufeldt and other CSUSM academic leaders. Graduates received a diploma cover and a graduation sign through the window of their car, without coming into direct contact the distribution team, who were wearing face shields and gloves and using a tray to hand off items, each time disinfecting surfaces before the next graduate rolled through.

Many graduates wore their caps and gowns, and cars were packed with family members who had been waiting years to celebrate the proud graduate – though no one could have predicted it would be in this fashion. Still, there were joyful tears, huge smiles and lots of cheering.

Cars, too, were decorated in every way imaginable – markers, signs, streamers, balloons, giant mortarboards – and the blaring of car horns filled the air for the entirety of the 2-hour, 15-minute parade.

In recognition of an event that might have had no match nationwide, media coverage was extensive. Broadcast media stations dispatched reporters and camera people to campus as early as 4:30 a.m., and by the parade’s start, all five major TV networks in San Diego were reporting live from the parade route. A news helicopter circled above for about an hour, and a Reuters photographer was on hand shooting pictures that were sent to a global audience. “Good Morning America” highlighted the parade the next day in its Saturday broadcast, and this week, Buzzfeed shared the news as well.

The story has traveled the world, with the parade earning praise for its creativity and heart while still following strict safety measures. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein shared her appreciation for the university’s ingenuity in a tweet highlighting the novel approach to celebrating graduates during a pandemic.

Parade organizers were clear that Graduates on Parade does not replace commencement for the Class of 2020. CSUSM is committed to holding its traditional commencement ceremonies when it is finally safe to do so.

View the full album of photos from Graduates on Parade.

Media Contact

Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
bhiro@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7306