The irony of the moment wasn't lost on Model Laboratory senior class president Jacob Osborne.
"This is the one place we were never allowed to go during the school day," he said as he addressed his fellow students and their families on Thursday afternoon in the parking lot of EKU's Alumni Coliseum. "But, here we are."
It was an unexpected setting for a very unconventional ceremony.
Model honored its Class of 2020 with a drive-thru commencement on Thursday evening in Richmond.
Students, parents and friends parked in the lot in front of Alumni Coliseum. After speeches by administrators and Osborne, each of the school's 45 graduates were allowed to drive to stage, exit their vehicles and walk onto the stage to receive their diplomas.
"I don't think any of us thought this was how the year was going to end," Osborne said. "I think a lot of us are still coming to terms with this ending."
It was an ending that none of the graduates could have ever expected.
Like every school in Kentucky, Model halted in-person instruction in March after the COVID-19 virus swept into Kentucky. The students finished out the final two months of the school year working from home.
Social-distancing guidelines put in place by the government two months ago meant the cancellation of not just classes, but every other school-related function, including dances, sports, clubs and even a traditional graduation ceremony.
"We've learned that life isn't always fair, but that regardless of the things that happen outside our control, we can always take action on the things within our control," Osborne said. "Our choices are going to define who we are."
It was an unexpected life lesson.
Model Superintendent John Williamson told the crowd on Thursday that he was very proud of how the school's Class of 2020 handled the unprecedented situation.
He wasn't surprised, though, that they were able to thrive under difficult circumstances.
"I came to Model last year and got to work with many of these students," Williamson said. "I found that these students had their own sense of determination. I found that these students were adaptable, independent and fiercely resilient. What we didn't know was that those traits would be needed so much this year. They very suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves in a challenge that necessitated this resiliency."
The challenge for the staff at Model was trying to put on an in-person commencement ceremony in a safe way.
Cars were spaced out in the parking lot and spectators were not permitted to leave their vehicles. Graduates were driven (or drove) behind the stage, stopped on the other side and walked up a set of steps onto a temporary stage.
The seniors picked up their diplomas off a table. No handshakes or hugs were allowed and the graduates retreated quickly back into their vehicles and returned to their pre-assigned parking spots.
The entire ceremony was broadcast on 89.5 FM.
The school usual conducts its annual commencement ceremony at the EKU Center for the Arts. That wasn't possible this year.
Despite threatening skies, only a few drops of rain fell during the impromptu outdoor ceremony.
And at one point, a faint rainbow appeared on in the sky.
"Your Patriot journey has prepared your for a lifetime of success," EKU Interim President Dr. David McFaddin told the graduates during the ceremony.