CHATEAUGUAY, QUE. -- After five years of work, it was hard for students at Howard S. Billings High School to let go of the idea of walking across a stage.

“I completed the first step into life,” said Davyda Robinson, a member of the graduating class at the Chateauguay high school.

“It feels great.”

For the students, their parents and the school’s administration, it seemed unthinkable to miss that walk because the COVID-19 pandemic was keeping them all at home.

So they didn’t. The school came up with an alternative: a drive-thru, or rather a walk-by, graduation.

More than a hundred students showed up on Sunday afternoon to take their turn walking down the sidewalk next to their school, cheered on by teachers, friends and family.

“You work with these kids for five years—they're ours,” said Lynn Claude, the school’s principal.

“Their struggles become ours, and their successes are such a joy to watch at this point. It's been emotional to be able to say goodbye. We didn't think we were going to be able to do that.”

The event packed a lot into one short walk. Many of the girls wore prom dresses—the only chance they’ll have to do so—and each student got out of their family car, sanitized their hands at a small table and got a graduation cap.

Wearing the cap, they walked down the sidewalk as teachers leaned over from the school lawn and cheered, holding signs, along with families spaced out in the street.

At the end of the walk, each student got their own graduation march music, their name announced over a loudspeaker, a release of bubbles and, of course, a diploma.

“I didn't really think I was going to get anything,” said Cadence Patton. 

“They announced that everything was cancelled and we were all kind of bummed out about it. And I'm just really glad I got a chance to have a day like this and get dressed up and just have fun.” 

For student Zoe Kanonsiiosta Mehlhorn, it was an emotional day. Zoe’s father passed away last month. 

“It’s non-stop just thinking about him, and I know he's proud, and I just want to make him more proud,” she said.

Zoe dreams of becoming a doctor. Her mother, Jill Kanietonhawi Kirby, said she was glad to have the chance to celebrate her daughter. 

“I'm really proud of her,” she said. “I know she's going to go on and do her father proud.” 

Rites of passage are about more than just the pomp and circumstance—they can be a time for reflection, the students said.

“I grew up a lot and went through a lot of things,” said Davyda Robinson, “so now I just know, since I was able to do that, I'm going to be able to do much more in the future.”