ANNA - It may not have been what anyone envisioned at the beginning of the school year, but Anna High School’s seniors were honored with a one-of-a-kind graduation celebration May 22.

“It’s a great day to be a Coyote,” Anna ISD Superintendent Michael Comeaux said as the ceremony began. “We are thankful that you are able to join us for this unique ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of our senior class.”

The festivities began with a 5 p.m. parade that spanned the city.

Graduating seniors and their family assembled near Anna Towne Center. From there, they traveled across FM 455, up West Crossing Boulevard and into the high school parking lot.

Thanks to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, that’s where the students would remain for the rest of the evening, though not necessarily in their cars.

A 90-minute gap between the parade’s conclusion and the 7 p.m. commencement provided ample opportunities for students to reunite in person, pose for selfies and soak up one last night at their soon-to-be alma mater.

Parents got into the act too, taking pictures and reveling in the company of friends and neighbors. At times the scene resembled a giant tailgate party. Police patrolled the perimeter to ensure that the crowd did not swell past permissible capacity.

Each student was allowed to bring one vehicle and as many people as it could legally hold. This made pickups especially popular with many families and well-wishers piling into truck beds to cheer on their favorite students.

As graduation time approached, everyone returned to their vehicles and waited their turn. Cars snaked their way up to the stage as students approached in groups of three.

When each individual received a diploma, their families were allowed to stop in front of the stage and take pictures from their cars.

Salutatorian Emily McDonald, noting that she wouldn’t be speaking if she weren’t “some sort of nerd,” compared the situation to a game of Minecraft.

A typical game includes hills, mountains, caves and ravines. While the mountaintops may be the safest place to be, you also have to traverse the caves and ravines for vital supplies even when there are enemies to fight.

Similarly in life, there are low points that turn out to be blessings in disguise. They may require a fight, but they teach us about ourselves and others, and make us stronger. They also remind us to appreciate the little things and to be grateful for what we have.

“Please remember that COVID is only temporary and there will be many more temporary times like this,” she said. “Practice this idea of looking up in the valley and see the good. Find the beauty. You have a choice. You always have a choice. See for yourself what the world has to offer.”

Valedictorian Marianna Bert said that the semester marred by the coronavirus has offered the unexpected gift of clarity.

While it may be easy to focus all that has been taken way, it is also easy to overlook all that has been given. The past few months have provided a rare chance to slow down, reflect and prioritize what is truly important.

Bert told her classmates that they had to choose whether the current world was going to define them or inspire them to be better, they should do better and raise their own expectations. Everyone has plans and dreams, but each person must be daring enough to put themselves out there to find opportunities and not hesitate to take them. Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. If we don’t seize our chances, they will pass us by.

“Do not let today, our high school graduation, be your crowning achievement in life,” she said. “Yes, this moment right here and right now is a great milestone for each of us, but it is not an end. It is a beginning.”