The balloons bobbed.

The banners fluttered.

The parents cheered.

The teachers waved.

And the graduates grinned as they rolled up to Payson High School Principal Jeff Simon to pick up their hard-earned diploma, a flash of purple and joy in the long shadow of a pandemic.

Payson High School last week held its truncated COVID-19 graduation, with less pomp and ceremony but that same sense of mingled joy and nostalgia.

Retiring choir teacher Lisa Tan loved the ceremony and the long procession of happily decorated cars at both the high school and middle school promotions.

“It was a simple, heartwarming event. What made it so special? We were together again. After long weeks of isolation, we came together as a family to celebrate our children. Every face shone brightly with love and excitement. Some students and many teachers wiped away silent tears as they smiled. The whole atmosphere rang with the joy of a hometown parade. It is truly great to be a Longhorn!” she said.

Photographer DJ Craig captured the historic, drive-by diploma distribution, as he’s captured so many moments in the four years of adventure, discovery, drudgery and challenge each of the graduates pondered as they waited in the long line of cars.

They leaned out the windows or popped up out of the sun roofs of their parents’ cars, festooned with balloons and congratulatory messages written on the windows. They waved, flashed the Longhorn sign, climbed halfway out the car window, and posed for pictures. A few wore masks, but mostly they flashed enormous grins.

They made do — they’re Longhorns, after all.

No walk across the stage under the Friday Night Lights.

No dancing past midnight in long gowns.

No tossing graduation caps in a flurry of joy.

The unemployment rate’s 20%. The lockdown’s only starting to ease. The prospects for reopening college campuses are uncertain. No doubt about it: The world’s a mess — even more than usual.

But you can still feel the hope and courage as they lean out the car windows, beaming for DJ as they roll to a stop. You can’t see their parents in the pictures, because they’re driving the car, making the payments, wondering how they’ll pay for college. They’re proud and just a little fearful — and wondering what they’ll do with their lives now.

So the Class of 2020 puttered through the portal and on into the great wide world — more or less ready for whatever comes next in a world that’s always throwing you curves.

They don’t look scared. They look brave and happy. So you can’t help but feel like it’s all gonna work out with such exceptional kids now entering the fray.

There’s just no doubt: It’s great to be a Longhorn.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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