Photo by Matthew Hall.

The first virtual commencement ceremony in the history of Santa Monica High School is in the books. And while the graduates of Samohi were unable to cross the stage as a group this year, they did enjoy a one-of-a-kind scavenger hunt that sent them circling around the city together one last time.

Typically on graduation day, students spend the morning preparing for their commencement ceremony and the all-night party that awaits them after dinner with family members. This year, due to Covid-19, all of the traditional activities were canceled, meaning some students who hadn’t seen each other since March were in danger of leaving their peers for college without ever having the ability to say a final goodbye.

“Parents and the Grad Night Committee thought it’d be special to organize a scavenger hunt that allowed them to get out of the house and do something fun since they’ve been so limited in their senior activities,” grad night committee volunteer Karen Rigberg said last week. So students woke up bright and early Tuesday morning for the chance to see old friends, enjoy a bite to eat at local businesses and, of course, win some prizes.

Residents couldn’t help but notice the hundreds of blue gowns bustling to elementary schools or shops on Montana Avenue in an effort to secure enough points that would allow them to enter a raffle for prizes and possibly cash.

After 4 hours of traveling from Whole Foods to the Aero Theatre, cartwheeling at parks, and visiting their favorite eats near school like Donut King, most of the soon-to-be alums returned home, where some would later watch the evening’s livestream of their graduation.

Superintendent Ben Drati was the first to speak during the broadcast — some of which occurred from the campus with Principal Antonio Shelton and a few students who all remained distanced and masked.

“First, I want to say that I am so sorry that the final joyous moments of your preschool through 12th grade experience was cut short by a worldwide pandemic. When you started your senior year back in August, none of us had any way of knowing that it would end so differently than in years past — without the same traditions that all of us have experienced and celebrated,” Drati said. “One thing I know for certain is that during this difficult time, you have learned lessons that you will carry with you for the rest of your life… You have adapted in so many ways, from the way you go to school, to the way you interact with your friends, to the way you maintain your fitness, social, physical and emotional health. And since we know the only constant in life is change,” the class of 2020 comes out of the gates equipped to deal with life perhaps more than any other before it.

Students who took the podium in the time after Drati spoke of how they entered the academic world when the country was healing from 9/11. The scholars would also experience the Sandy Hook tragedy as well as a number of other tragedies.

“Your maturity during this difficult and humbling time has given me a greater appreciation for your generation and those who are growing into adulthood through adversity,” Shelton said, detailing how the class has continued to show its resilient and caring nature throughout the pandemic. “I have been honored to serve as your friend and principal in these difficult times, and believe that you are well equipped to make a tremendous impact on our society.”

Of course, one of the most important parts of graduation is the opportunity to walk across the stage in front of classmates, friends and family. To make up for the fact students couldn’t this year, every senior was offered the opportunity to submit a five second virtual walk video that represented themselves.

To view the walks and the graduation in its entirety, residents can visit the website bit.ly/GradSamo.

brennon@smdp.com