EDMONTON -- The parking lot of Castrol Raceway south of Edmonton was packed Wednesday night – but it wasn’t for the typical “start your engines” event.

Instead 400 high school graduates gathered to celebrate the end of a very unusual year that saw Alberta schools modified in many ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students celebrating Wednesday were from west Edmonton Catholic school St. Francis Xavier.

“It’s more than nice! And it’s more than unusual!” Principal Heather Kaup said of the event that saw grads walk across the stage while parents stayed in their vehicles and honked.

For Kaup, graduations are always special, but this one was particularly relieving.

She said she was very proud of all staff, students, and administrators for dealing with a crazy year, and making it past the finish line.

“You get to see the culmination of 13 years of kids (hard work), and you actually get to see them celebrating which is something we really haven’t seen in a long time.”

Alberta’s website says as part of Stage 2 that “outdoor social gatherings” are restricted to 20 people, but “outdoor public gatherings” of up to 150 people are allowed.

Kaup said they were being very careful to distance and mask, so they didn’t violate any rules by having more than 20 people close to each other.

Distancing lines were painted on the ground and audio from the event was broadcast into cars over an FM radio channel.

Valedictorian Georgia Simkin was initially worried she might not get any grad event at all.

“It’s awesome that we can still do something,” Simkin said, agreeing with her principal that this year was rough, but memorable.

“It was hard because you’re in class, then at home. But I think everyone tried really hard to do what they could with their friends and celebrate in their own ways. I think it was special too because we were so much closer because of everything we were going through.”

St. Oscar Romero, Holy Trinity and Archbishop O’Leary will also hold their grads at the raceway this week.