When parents turn on their cars’ VHF radios at 9 p.m. on Thursday night at the Tibbs Drive-In Theater on the south-west side of Indy, they hear the voices of their sons and daughters – and see their smiling faces on the same screen as those that will be the following night Harrison Ford and Beyoncé rock in Call of the Wild and Dreamgirls.
While eighth grade Orchard School graduates thanked grandmothers, coaches, and canteen staff in one to three minute speeches in front of around 200 parents, teachers, and friends, the 2020 class will have the opportunity to say thank you in a much bigger way . Orchard School Marketing Coordinator James Layne believes they will be the first grade in town to have their graduation held entirely on the big screen.
“We rented the entire theater,” he says. “We made the privacy call that we didn’t want anyone watching Dirty Dancing to see a graduate’s photo and first and last name on the next screen.”
Closing speeches are a tradition for eighth graders at Orchard School, but when the coronavirus crisis called for opening ceremonies nationwide in March, it became clear, according to Layne, that a personal ceremony would not be possible. He and middle school principal Angela Brothers decided to find another way to celebrate the hard work of their graduates.
“She asked,” What if we got a drive-thru degree? “, He says.
Layne liked the idea, but wanted to do more to honor the 57 students he has known since he was 3 or 4 years old. “We saw these kids grow up, and now so they can’t go out in style?” he says. “We wouldn’t have it.”
He and his brothers took a week-long tour in a White Orchard School minibus to compile footage for speeches by all 57 graduates, an odyssey that lasted 25 hours and approximately 200 miles. Layne, who is also a professional photographer, not only gave each graduate a pizza and a custom festive sign, but also took a formal photo of each student wearing their suits and dresses against a backdrop of budding gardens and blooming flowers.
And although the final one hour and 45 minute film makes it seem like Layne is only feet from the students’ faces, he followed social distancing guidelines, leaving at least six feet between himself and each student (he used a zoom lens to do this) make sure they get up close and personal on their big screen debuts). Then it was time to start editing.
“There were a lot of 2am nights,” he says. “I spent over 40 hours editing the video. But it was important to me that they could walk and feel special. “
There were, of course, a few mishaps. In a blooper featured in the Orchard School celebration teaser video, Brothers and Layne show up in the wrong house.
“What did you say the address was?” Layne asks when Brothers strolls across a lawn to a house.
“6534,” she says.
“Uh, that’s 6554,” replies Layne.
Brothers sprint back to the bus, the celebratory yard in tow, hop into the driver’s seat and slam the door. “Gosh, that’s embarrassing,” she says.
All in one day of work to make this year’s Orchard School graduates an unforgettable ceremony.
Orchard School 2020’s eighth grade graduation will take place on Thursday, May 21, at 9 p.m. at the Tibbs Drive-In Theater.