St. Pius X High School will head to a drive-in movie theater in Hockley for this year’s graduation ceremony.
The private Catholic school at 811 Donovan St. announced Friday that it has amended its plan for senior graduation, originally scheduled for the morning of Saturday, May 23 at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Northwest Houston. Instead, St. Pius X said the ceremony will be held that evening at The Showboat Drive-in Theater, located at 22422 FM 2920 in Hockley, about 30 miles northwest of campus.
“St. Pius X High School has found a creative and unique alternative for the 2020 Commencement Ceremony that will allow graduating seniors to ‘walk across the stage’ while still adhering to social distancing directives,” Head of School Carmen Garrett Armistead said in a news release. “It may not be the traditional ceremony every student anticipates, but it is definitely one they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Per an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, all schools in the state are closed for the remainder of the academic year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are continuing to teach their students remotely by using online resources, with St. Pius X having implemented a distance learning program since March 25.
The school is one of nine in the Houston region that has enlisted Showboat for its graduation festivities, according to drive-in owner Andrew Thomas, who said he is in discussions with more schools and open to helping others. He said the drive-in has the capacity to safely accommodate up to 300 vehicles per graduation ceremony.
The drive-in is not considered an essential business and has been closed since late March, when Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a stay-at-home, work safe order that remains in effect through April 30. But Abbott has said he plans to soon allow businesses across the state to reopen, and Thomas said he was told by the Texas Division of Emergency Management that he can reopen May 1.
Thomas said being closed for more than a month has had a negative financial impact on the drive-in, so opening the venue to school graduations is an additional revenue source. He also described it as a service to the community, saying he’s working with schools to make it affordable for them. He said he’s generally charging schools about $25 per graduating student.
“It’s an important thing to help out the community in whatever ways you can,” Thomas said. “And it’s something that has a positive benefit for us right now, so we can try to catch up on the expenses we’ve had. Also long term, there’s a lot of people that are going to come out that didn’t even know we existed.”
St. Pius X said it continues to work out the specifics of its graduation ceremony but plans to have valedictorian and salutatorian speeches as well as an address from Armistead. The school said students will be placed at least 6 feet apart while walking across a stage to receive their diplomas. Their families will remain in their vehicles, which the school said will be spaced 12 feet apart, while watching the ceremony on a movie screen and listening on their radios.
St. Pius X said students and their families will be encouraged to decorate their vehicles to promote a celebratory atmosphere.
“None of us anticipated that this school year would end like this,” Armistead said. “But we are determined to make this a special time for the Class of 2020. All schools are trying to figure out how best to honor their seniors while still keeping in mind their safety and health. We think we’ve found a positive solution.”