Hundreds Gather at Salem State for Drive-by Commencement Celebration

Extremely disappointed that college commencement at Salem State was in limbo, Everett’s Marc Centrella had an idea about a month ago that it would be cool to have hundreds cruise the campus on graduation day to celebrate even without an official ceremony.

He laughed about the idea, but posted it on the Salem State University Class of 2020 Facebook page anyway.

Soon, it had become quite a serious idea, and people really wanted to do it. So, Centrella began talking in online meetings with the president, the college administration, the campus police, the Salem Police and even Salem City Hall. He said he wanted to leave no stone unturned, and the result was an awesome – and safe – celebration on campus in cars on May 16.

“When I posted it so many people said if I organized it, they would support and attend,” he said.

The student-organized Drive-by Commencement Celebration brought cheers, honks, and decorated cars to Salem State’s O’Keefe parking lot on Saturday, May 16, where students and their families lined up in cars for the start of a celebratory drive around campus. About 100 cars holding about 300 people took part in the procession as approximately 40 Salem State faculty, staff, and administrators – including President John Keenan – spread out in their masks and cheered on the Class of 2020.

“We had about 100 cars and I was predicting 30 to 50,” he said. “It was an amazing turnout. Really, it gave people something to look forward to in these sad times. We will still have a commencement in the summer, but we don’t know when or how. For me personally, I’m the first person from my mother’s side of the family to attend college. When the pandemic happened, no one thought graduation would be impacted or businesses would lose so much money. To some students like me, family members have been really looking forward to this and to have something is an amazing thing in such a sad time…I saw people crying and tearing up, and it wasn’t said – they were tears of joy.”

Said President Keenan, “This drive-by celebration showed that the spirit of commencement cannot be dampened. The class of 2020 has shown tremendous resilience, and it’s no surprise that they found a safe and creative way to come together on what would have been our undergraduate commencement day. It was an honor to be there to cheer them on.”

Centrella, a current Everett resident that attended the Keverian School before graduating from Malden High in 2014, said getting things done involved collaboration with Salem State’s university police and the Salem Police Department. The drive-by was followed by a brief  HYPERLINK “https://www.salemstate.edu/commencement” \t “_blank” online conferral of degrees as a way to officially recognize graduates’ success while the university works to reschedule the Class of 2020’s commencement.

“No matter what life throws at you, there’s always a way to find moments of light and joy,” said Centrella, “With everything going on in the world, we made something great out of nothing. We made it and we did it as one. That little drive-by meant a lot to family and friends. I had so many thank me. I felt it was just the right thing to do. It just worked out and I’m so happy for that.”

The university arranged for students to pick up their caps and gowns before the virtual conferral of degrees, while keeping masks and social distancing guidelines in place. As the university works to reschedule this year’s commencement, celebratory videos and emails have been shared with students. 

Centrella graduated with a business major, and a concentration in Management Information Systems, but said he intends to find a job out of college that is about helping people. Since COVID-19 hit – along with the graduation planning effort – he said he really wants his life to be about helping people who are in need in some way.

The more than 2,000 graduates in the Class of 2020 include about 1,600 undergraduates and nearly 600 graduates receiving master’s degrees or certificates of advanced graduate studies. Graduates represent 32 countries and 23 states. This year, 279 students are becoming Double Vikings by receiving their second Salem State degree.

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