DAYTONA, Fla. – Seniors at three Florida high schools won’t be taking the traditional walk across the stage to receive their diplomas because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they’ll be driving across the finish line at the Daytona International Speedway to pick up their degrees.
“We’re honored to have the graduates of Matanzas, Flagler-Palm Coast, and First Baptist Christian Academy, along with their families, with us on what will be a very special day at Daytona International Speedway,” said track President Chip Wile. “The France family and track are committed to supporting our community in any way possible, and we’re glad to be able to provide what will be an unforgettable experience for these graduates. Their day is finally here.”
After students receive their diploma, they’ll be led through the trioval on the way to take a complete “Victory Lap” around the 2.5-mile venue on the track before returning to the area near pit road entrance where the moving of the tassel and cap toss will occur.
The graduations were originally scheduled for Thursday. A committee of students and school officials met in April to come up with options. They didn’t want to push the ceremonies into the summer and they didn’t want a virtual ceremony.
“We are very grateful that Daytona International Speedway was kind enough to include our graduating Seniors in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said FBCA Headmaster Dr. Jason Harrison. “Our FBCA students, families and staff feel overwhelmingly blessed and deeply appreciate the generosity and the thoughtfulness of the organizers of this event.”
The ceremonies will be simulcast via radio inside the facility and will be live-streamed on the FlaglerSchools.com website, school officials said.
“This class has gone through school closures caused by three hurricanes and a global pandemic so they all envisioned a ‘historic ceremony’ to close out their high school careers,” according to a release from the district. “When presented with the offer from Daytona International Speedway, the soon-to-be graduates were excited at the prospect of taking a ‘victory lap’ as they end this chapter of their lives.
Graduating senior Victoria Mercarter said she was happy to come together with the Class of 2020 and celebrate this milestone.
"I'm really excited to start the next chapter of my life and I'm happy we're doing something," Mercarter said.
More than 400 cars lined up along pit road Sunday morning. Many vehicles were decorated with balloons and streamers. The graduates were inside their vehicles wearing their cap and gown as they received their diploma while crossing the finish line.
"It just means a lot to me cause I struggled and now I've finally made it," graduating senior Annalyssas Ferlazzo said.
Wile said they did not want COVID-19 to rob these students from celebrating a huge accomplishment.
"Some of them will go on to college, some of them will go to the military, some will get jobs, but this is a big moment and we're really excited to share with them during these difficult times," Wile said.
The graduates said they were excited to come together one last time and make their mark.
“It will never happen again, so we’re really making history,” graduating senior Mckenzie Flis said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story