WATERVILLE — A parade of Waterville Senior High School seniors in 101 vehicles is scheduled to leave the school Thursday night and head to an unusual graduation site — a car dealership — and well-wishers are invited to cheer for them along the parade route.

Central Maine Motors Auto Group owners Chris and Linanne Gaunce offered their parking lot to host graduation for the Class of 2020, since the class cannot graduate in a group because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because space is limited, the parking lot can accommodate only the 101 vehicles, plus those of students’ families, friends and high school teachers, who have parking passes.

High school Principal Brian Laramee said Monday that others, including former teachers and friends, may root as the students travel the parade route before the ceremony.

The seniors’ vehicles are scheduled to leave the high school at 6:45 p.m. and proceed down Vose Street, turn right on Western Avenue, go left on First Rangeway, right on Kennedy Memorial Drive and then turn left onto Armory Road, where they will take the first right entrance into Central Maine Motors and park in the center of the lot.

Students’ family members and high school teachers who have passes already will have parked in the lot between 6:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., after which the lot will be closed, according to Laramee.

At 6:45 p.m., seniors in their vehicles are scheduled to leave the high school, escorted by Waterville police and a fire truck.

“We’re encouraging people to wish our graduates well along that route, and maintain social distancing,” Laramee said. “We invited all our sending schools to participate by being on the side of the road, cheering them on.”

He said that when graduation is normally held at the Harold Alfond Athletic Center at Colby College, school officials invite educators and others from Vassalboro, China, Mount Merici Academy, Albert S. Hall School, George J. Mitchell School and Waterville Junior High School, but because there is just not enough space this year, they are welcome to watch as the seniors pass by in their vehicles along the parade route.

Chris, right, and Linanne Gaunce stand atop a 10-foot retaining wall while surveying the Chevrolet lot from the Toyota lot at Central Maine Motors Auto Group in Waterville, where they will stage a drive-up graduation ceremony Thursday for 101 Waterville Senior High School seniors.

Once the seniors arrive at Central Maine Motors to the music of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1,” they will take the first right entrance to Central Maine Motors off Airport Road and park.

The ceremony is likely to begin shortly after 7 p.m., Laramee said. The ceremonies will be broadcast on The Mix 107.9 radio and Facebook, and people in their vehicles will be able to tune in and listen to the speeches and announcements.

A large stage will be erected at the car dealership’s lot, where Laramee, high school assistant Kim Taylor, School Superintendent Eric Haley, members of the Waterville Board of Education, Athletic Director Heidi Bernier and others will be seated in staggered chairs to follow social-distancing guidelines.

Class marshals Taylor Bielecki and Rebecca Maheu, as well as retiring math teacher Scott Rivard and Lauren Pinnette, the class president and speaker, also will sit on the stage. Seniors chose Rivard as the guest speaker, according to Laramee.

Students and others with passes, including teachers, must remain in their vehicles and the seniors will be called up to the stage in groups of 10 from their home rooms to receive their diplomas and must wear masks, according to Laramee. He said a professional photographer will take pictures of each graduate, and they will be sent to them, free of charge.

Laramee will speak first and said he will talk about how it is important to live each day to the fullest because we do not know what tomorrow will bring, as evidenced by the pandemic. Students left school Friday, March 13, not knowing they would not be returning to school Monday, March 16. They learned March 15 they would not be going back, he said.

After they receive their diplomas, the graduates will exit the lot to “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1,” and the high school teachers are expected to line both sides of Armory Road to wish the new graduates well. Teachers will be at least 6 feet apart, according to Laramee.

Laramee said the Gaunces did a wonderful job laying out the venue for graduation. Their son, Daniel, is a member of the graduating class.

“The amount of effort that has gone into this is remarkable,” he said. “We’re so thankful for their efforts.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the graduates will not have a class trip, but the money raised for project graduation was used to buy each senior an L.L.Bean travel bag, according to Laramee.

The class had initially planned to do an overnight trip to The Forks and go on a rafting trip, he said.

While some other high schools opted to have graduation ceremonies at drive-ins, Waterville was fortunate to be able to stay in the city, he said.

“Luckily,” he said, “the Gaunce family volunteered the lot so we could provide some sort of experience locally instead of traveling to Skowhegan or some other place.”

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