When COVID-19 threatened Waterville Senior High’s graduation ceremony, Central Maine Toyota answered the call.
For Chris Gaunce, owner of Central Maine Motors Auto Group and dealer principal of Central Maine Toyota, hosting the Waterville Senior High School graduation was more duty than choice.
COVID-19 put into question the feasibility of the ceremony for the class of 2020. The small town situated between Bangor and Augusta needed a solution. And Gaunce happened to own two car dealerships with plenty of outdoor space.
So, after detailing his plan to students, faculty and the school board, Gaunce and his staff of 200 were able to host the ceremony at the dealerships.
“The community needed a win,” Gaunce says. “For all of the students, it was important to see there was an opportunity in this adversity.”
How did it work? Well, both dealerships stand side-by-side with the Toyota lot fittingly raised a few feet higher. That created a perfect stage as graduates and their families looked on from their cars in the adjacent lot. The June 11 graduation was streamed live on social media to make sure everyone had a great vantage point, and broadcast over a local radio station so everyone could hear.
With about 100 graduates each allowed two cars of guests, the space was crowded. Only 50 people were allowed out of their vehicles at a time, so the graduates took the stage in groups of 20. Everyone was required to wear a mask when they were out of their car.
“We all needed closure to the school year,” Linanne Gaunce says. “The graduation needed to happen, and we were so happy to be able to help.”
“Everybody pulled together,” Chris Gaunce says. “It was an incredible process to watch all these people come together to be successful at a very challenging time. Everybody rallied around what can happen — not what can’t happen. And it was incredible.”