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Posted: April 30, 2020


“Drive-In” Graduation Planned at Red Lake Nation College

(Red Lake, MN, April 29, 2020) Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing requirements, and Tribal martial law on the Reservation, spring commencement at Red Lake Nation College (RLNC) will still go on as scheduled on May 21, 2020, at 8:00 p.m. – drive-in theater style. 

“Most colleges and larger high schools have hundreds, or even thousands of graduates, so many have been forced to cancel their graduation ceremonies because of the pandemic,” said RLNC President, Dan King. “However, we are a small, family college with only thirteen graduates. We just had to figure out a way to make this ceremony happen.”

According to King, over 80% of RLNC students are first-generation college students. “They have already overcome so many obstacles just to attend college, we did not want to deprive them of this major milestone.” So instead of accepting the apparent certainty of cancellation, King challenged his leadership team to come up with a safe alternative — and that’s how the drive-in concept came about. 

Although most of RLNC’s graduates are too young to remember drive-in theaters, once the concept was explained, they became very excited about the idea. According to King, a stage will be erected in front of the college’s impressive eagle façade, with the natural beauty and lakeside views of the massive 287,000-acre Red Lake in the background. Family and friends will park in the lot in front of the stage and remain in the comfort and safety of their own vehicles — just like an “old school” drive-in theatre. 

Each graduate will have a reserved parking spot in the front row and will stay in their vehicle until their name is called. Onlookers will be encouraged to honk their approval as each graduate picks up their degree and crosses the stage with no other students or staff nearby. 

While this unconventional, yet fairly simple plan may have been enough for some, the College wanted to step-it-up a few notches. “RLNC is known for embracing technology, including some courses augmented by virtual reality coming next fall,” said King. He added, “Once the pandemic was declared, we were able to switch from classroom to online course delivery quite smoothly. Our small size and technological resources allow us to be more agile than most, and we have some exceptionally tech-savvy staff members that put us over-the-top.”

Besides being professionally photographed, the entire drive-in commencement celebration will be livestreamed on RLNC’s Facebook page and the website. The ceremony will be recorded from both stationary and aerial drone video cameras and shown on 15-foot screens flanking the stage. The photos and recordings will be made available to students free of charge, so there will be no need for visitors to leave their vehicles. For the sake of nostalgia, the College is also planning to use some “old-school” drive-in technology to provide audio via FM transmission to car radios during the commencement. 

The night will include two local rappers, Thomas X and Kaboose, who will perform from a separate stage and serve as entertainers and hosts for the event. Movie-type refreshments (popcorn, candy, and soft drinks) will be provided by masked and gloved staff, for guests to enjoy during the celebration. 

“Native people have had to overcome and adapt to almost insurmountable conditions for generations. This latest pandemic is far from the worst obstacle our people have faced,” said King, who is also a Hereditary Chief of the Red Lake Nation. “Like our ancestors, we are meeting this new challenge with courage and creativity. Furthermore, our Graduating Class of 2020 is a perfect example to current and future generations that we will continue to persevere as Native People.” 


A creative coronavirus commencement ceremony.

WHAT: Red Lake Nation College (RLNC) will hold commencement exercises for its 13 graduates drive-in theater style.

A stage and two 15-foot will be erected in front of the college’s impressive eagle façade located on the shore of Red Lake. Family and friends will park in front of the stage, remain in their vehicles, and honk their approval as each graduate crosses the stage with their degree.

Movie-type refreshments (popcorn, candy, and soft drinks) will be provided. 

EMCEES/ENTERTAINMENT: Local rappers, Thomas X and Kaboose 

WHEN: 8:00 p.m. (CST), Thursday, May 21, 2020

WHERE: Red Lake Nation College, 15480 Migizi Drive, Red Lake, MN 56671


WHY: Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, large gatherings such as traditional graduation ceremonies are being discouraged. However, because of its small graduating class and ideal outdoor setting, RLNC decided that a drive-in theater format would provide a safe and memorable alternative for their graduates’ milestone moment.

Red Lake Nation College (RLNC) — A Great Place to Start! This two-year tribal college is located on the beautiful shores of Red Lake in Northern Minnesota. It’s state-of-the-art facilities, combined with Ojibwe language and culture, and globally relevant courses, offer a unique combination of Native innovation and tradition that prepares students of all backgrounds for the twenty-first century job market. RLNC is currently a candidate for accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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