Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s campus was deserted Friday until cars began forming a line in front of the university’s fountain as President Cynthia Teniente-Matson and the school’s costumed mascot stood by to greet each student in an unorthodox graduation ceremony.

Under coronavirus restrictions, colleges and universities canceled, delayed, or transformed in-person graduation ceremonies to comply with social distancing. Still, leaders at the South Side university found their own way to celebrate.

The school invited the class of more than 1,000 graduates to a drive-in celebration Friday. A more traditional graduation ceremony is planned for September.

One by one students emerged from their vehicles with masks across their faces and mortarboards atop their heads. Songs like Blinding Lights by The Weeknd and Say So by Doja Cat blared from nearby speakers, replacing the traditional graduation soundtrack of Pomp and Circumstance.

Sara and William Kujawski, a daughter and dad pair, exited their car wearing masks to collect their diploma covers before discarding their facial coverings for a socially distanced photo with Teniente-Matson and General the Jaguar.

“It’s a unique situation all around,” Sara said. “I’m graduating with my dad, and it is the second time I’m graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Everything else is also going on.”

She already obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology but continued her studies for a degree in criminology. Her father, retired from a career in the army, received a degree in cybersecurity.

It’s a weird and strange time, William Kujawski said, noting that he was happy the two could celebrate their accomplishments in some way.

Graduate Ceanna Tabora arrived a little after 9 a.m. to celebrate the successful completion of an accounting degree, with new aspirations on a career not at all related.

“I’ve been waiting quite some time to graduate,” Tabora said. “My studies gave me time to figure out I don’t want to do [accounting.]”

The new graduate discovered a love for cooking and started her own catering and events planning business, Ce Cooks, which remains in demand even as most people stay home, she said.

And while Tabora expects to attend the September ceremony, her immediate celebration plans include cake at home.

Lyzette Garza had her own thoughts on how to commemorate the occasion: She purchased a bottle of Stella Rosa Rosso wine for the occasion. Garza’s roommate acted as both the chauffeur and photographer, dropping Garza off, and snapping photos of the new graduate as she posed with the university president, the dome of the school’s main building as the photo’s backdrop.

With these photos, Garza capped off four years at TAMU-SA. She began her studies for a bachelor’s degree in science education in 2016, one of the members of the first freshmen class welcomed on campus.

“We’re all very emotional because you don’t expect this, and you work so hard to get here and then [coronavirus] happened,” Garza said. “We all want our moment to walk the stage.”

Universities and colleges around San Antonio are grappling with how to give students recognition while also following necessary safety precautions.

Bianca Gutierrez waves to her family in the car as she walks toward the diploma collection and photo area at Texas A&M-San Antonio’s “Operation Graduation – Curbside Edition.” Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The University of Texas at San Antonio will host a virtual commencement ceremony on May 23 and 24. The event will feature video messages to the Class of 2020 and photos of graduates with messages of thanks to family and faculty. The university is working on plans for an in-person celebration once large public gatherings are permitted.

Alamo Colleges postponed their spring commencement ceremonies until December. The community college system’s campuses hosted virtual commencement ceremonies last week.

Our Lady of the Lake University livestreamed a virtual Mass to celebrate graduates with a special address from university President Diane Melby. The university also posted a slideshow recognizing each graduate with a photo and invited the graduating class to participate in a December in-person ceremony.

St. Mary’s University canceled the spring 2020 commencement ceremonies, Baccalaureate Mass, and Rattler Ring Ceremony, but invited graduates to walk the stage in December or May 2021. The university’s law school will hold a virtual graduation ceremony on Saturday.

Trinity University postponed its traditional commencement ceremonies until August 8, but plans to virtually confer degrees on Saturday with a lineup of speakers arranged and graduates to be recognized with photos.

The University of the Incarnate Word canceled its May 8 and 9 in-person ceremony, opting to celebrate graduates virtually and invite them to walk the stage in December. The virtual ceremony will be held on May 30.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.