In keeping with COVID-19 safety guidelines, the event drew hundreds of people to campus for the first time since March 2020 to celebrate the class of 2021.

SAN MARCOS — More than 400 vehicles filled with graduates and their cheering families rolled through the main Palomar College campus Friday evening, May 28, 2021, in an upbeat drive-through commencement ceremony.

It was a picture-perfect afternoon as cars began to line up around 4:30 p.m. In Parking Lot 12, college leaders gathered at a “finish line” of sorts to congratulate the graduates and hand off diploma covers. Earlier on the route, more than 100 faculty members and the Palomar College Jazz Ensemble awaited students as they made their way through campus.

The ceremony was streamed live online for those who could not attend, with a pre-recorded program that was available starting at 2 p.m. on Friday. Meanwhile, KKSM, Palomar’s FM radio station, was taking requests and live call-ins throughout the day to honor this year’s graduates.

“I can sense a spirit of tenacity, resilience and desire to succeed within all of you,” said Interim Superintendent/President Dr. Jack Kahn in his recorded address. “The work you have done and the achievements you have gained is inspiring. You not only inspire me but you inspire your faculty, your fellow students, your family members, and friends.

“You did not let this pandemic stop you,” Dr. Kahn added. “Your commitment to achieving your goals is remarkable. Your strength and tenacity are second to none.”

Van with balloons

Palomar College Governing Board Vice President Mark Evilsizer, left, congratulates a graduate during the 2021 drive-through commencement held Friday, May 28, 2021.

Participation in Friday’s ceremony was optional, and virtually all of the vehicles that arrived via Comet Circle were decorated with supportive messages and balloons. All told, some 3,837 degrees and certificates were earned this year.

Associated Student Government (ASG) President Kateri Mouawad focused on resilience in her address to her fellow graduates: “You’ve graduated in a pandemic, overcoming one of the most difficult circumstances of the decade. You’ve overcome economic, emotional, and social hurdles and are continuing forward on your journey to reach your goals, and hopefully make the world a better place.”

A few minutes before the event began at 5 p.m., Mary Handler sat in her sister’s idling convertible, wearing full academic regalia and sunglasses.

“I’m just happy to be doing something to celebrate,” said Handler, 17, who was receiving her associate degree in University Studies, with University of California and California State University transfer certificates.

She said it wasn’t the sort of graduation she had imagined, “But I’m having fun.”

From the backseat, her mother, Carrie Handler, beamed with pride: “I couldn’t be more proud—she’s an amazing kid,” she said. “Mary is unstoppable.”

Nearby, Judith Munjuia waited in line with her family.

“This means a lot,” said Munjuia, who was receiving her associate degree in Business Administration. She said she joined the commencement procession because “I wanted to feel like a part of my college—to feel the spirit.”