Talk about original. Historic. Cool. And on time.
Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas High School seniors–the Class of 2020, battered by three hurricanes and the coronavirus emergency–will have their graduation ceremonies after all, in person, on time, and in the most unique ways imaginable.
The school district, the Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR have worked out an arrangement that will have every graduate and his or her family drive in their own cars down the speedway’s stretch, crossing the Finish line and getting their diploma. The event will be restricted to one car per graduate, with the graduate’s family in that car, so additional visitors will not be permitted. And it’s still not clear whether the graduates will be able to step out of their vehicle or not: that’ll depend on the state of the emergency and its phases at the time, a fluid factor.
But the ceremony will be live on video via Facebook and the district’s platforms, so graduates’ family members who can;t be at the Speedway will be able to watch–as will graduates and their families themselves, in their cars.
The graduates’ names will be announced on the Speedway’s booming public address system, as if they were in a race, and school board members and the superintendent will be there, speaking, as will others–Sheriff Rick Staly, school resource deputies, some faculty members: many of those details are being worked out.
“We’re really excited,” Superintendent Jim Tager said this morning in an appearance with Student Board Member Hunter Perez on WNZF, where they announced the plans. Perez said “it truly was student-driven,” with Lynette Shott, the director of student and community engagement, who served on the committee, finding ways to translate students’ wishes into reality.
“We had a committee made up of students, school administrators, district staff, and a member of the School Board,” Superintendent Jim Tager said, referring to Colleen Conklin, who will be witnessing her 20th graduation in her school board tenure. “All of the members on this committee were determined to find a way for our graduates to have their ceremony as close to the original May 28th date as possible. Without the wonderful team at Daytona International Speedway, we probably would not have been able to do that.”
Students were leery of delaying the ceremony: many are going off to the military, many hope to join the workforce, many are having plans that may take them away from the region. There’d been discussions about delaying the event until homecoming or Christmas, and holding it at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, as with previous graduations.
But even then, “no one really knew whether or not the restrictions would be lifted,” Conklin said in an interview this morning. “So we’d find ourselves in the same position, and the class itself I think understands that they are special and unique given the circumstances of graduating under these conditions and loved the idea of being part of something that would be one of a kind. It probably will never happen again. Let’s hope and pray. But utilizing the Speedway, we’ll never have that opportunity again, and we’re just over the moon that the International Speedway stepped up reached out and offered their facility. It’s really quite amazing.”
The France family, which owns the Speedway, is offering the location at no charge to the district.
“The France family has been committed to supporting our local schools in any way they can,” Chip Wile, President of Daytona International Speedway, was quoted as saying in a district release issued this morning. “We are unique in that we can comfortably accommodate these schools and provide an unforgettable experience for these graduates. We are honored to host these graduates and their families for this special occasion.”
Some of the ideas the committee discussed included a parade type event around Town Center in Palm Coast, stopping by a certain place and picking up the diploma. Numerous local community groups and organizations offered help or facilities, among them the county airport, which proposed a drive-in event there. Municipal stadiums were studied as possible locations. Then the Speedway stepped up.
“We’ve got 30 days to iron this thing out,” district spokesman Jason Wheeler said, “so we’re on the clock.”
Flagler-Palm Coast High School’s Shelcey Garcia and Matanzas’ Perez were on the committee, along with two other students from each school. “Graduating at Daytona International Speedway is beyond anything I ever could have imagined when we started talking about alternate graduations,” Perez said. “No one else in the nation has ever done anything like this. I am very excited and thankful to Flagler Schools for putting students first and to Daytona International Speedway for making the facility available to us.” Garcia sees the experience as another challenge. “The best way to persevere is to show how you work through it, despite it being new and different,” she said. “It’s important to remember that there’s always positivity in tough times. The FPC Class of 2020 will be remembered as those who persevered and created hope out of a time where we felt hopeless. For our class to be able to go out on such a high note at such an amazing venue is so exciting.”
The class has been battered by school-closing emergencies going back to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Hurricane Irma the following year, and Hurricane Dorian this fall, each time losing days and having to make-up days, though none of those emergencies come close to the school-ending calamity that’s been the Covid-19 emergency. Students went on spring break in March, only to be ordered to shelter at home for an additional week, then two more weeks, then hear that their in-person school year had been cancelled: the district shifted all instruction online.
There’d been discussions about having a virtual graduation ceremony. That’s happening across the country in colleges and high schools. But Flagler’s students were “virtualed out,” according to the committee.
“I recognized not everybody is going to be happy about it, but given the circumstances I think it’s a pretty cool idea,” Conklin said, “and definitely think that it will be a memorable one for everyone involved. And I hope it says to the Class of 2020: you are as unique and as special as this event we’re trying to put together for you.”
Good stuff says
Wow!That is great!
Kim Gridley says
That is absolutely wonderful! Many thanks to the France family.
Col Bob says
Now that’s COOL !!!!
Gina Rova says
How awesome! Another great idea would be if every graduate and their family were able to ride in a truck with the graduate standing in the bed with their cap and gown. I have 3 trucks and would be willing to loan them for the ceremony. Allowing these graduates to be seen and stand tall for this huge accomplishment. Just a thought!
This sounds extremely dangerous! One small bump or slip and the student in falling from the truck bed and possibly dead. Its happened before from recklessness like that.
the vehicles will not be going over 5mph.. it will be no different then a parade… they stand on flats in parades.. they will line cars.. and crawl to finish line.. they wont be doing 60mph .. its NOT a race.. common sense tells you just under 400 students… 2 hrs to do this… it will be at a snails pace.. and the kids SHOULD be seen. not hidden in a car.
Mary Anne Meindl says
Thank you to everyone who are making this happen. These Seniors are so deserving of this opportunity. This is a special time and will truly be a memorable day for all.💚💚💚💚💚💚💚
This is not “cool” How do you think it feels to be a senior and be the only class that doesn’t get to do everything all of the other seniors get to do how are people going to move away when corona still has colleges closed they said they were pushing it back to summer and pushed back 2 days
Do have a better idea to how to go from no graduation to a one of a kind graduation that will be very special? It is a whole lot better than walking down the aisle with everyone hooting and hollering like it’s a wrestling match instead of the culmination of 12 years of hard work. “How do you think it feels?” Sounds like for the ones that count, it feels great.
So deal with it!
Always someone negative in the comments says
They should be proud to do things differently, think outside the box. Why do things the way others have done? Life is ever changing, obstacles and challenges happen all the time throughout ones life time, that is how growth occurs, experiences take place, thoughts and ideas are cultivated, progression is made. Doing things the way they have always been done doesnt always allow for that. There are 2 types in this world; there are those that are pessimists and those that are optimists. The pessimist remains complaining and stagnant while the optimist looks for ways to adapt and overcome. The Class of 2020 is a group of optimists, doing something that no class before them has done, they will have a ceremony unlike any other, they will stand out and stand tall and be able to look back on this with pride because they found a way to make their graduation happen, they adapted and overcame the obstacles and challenges that were put in their way. Its okay to be different and do things different, thats what sets people apart and makes them stand out. Every year Seniors look for ways to make their graduation somehow different, memorable and stand out yet all graduation ceremonies have been the same, nothing exciting, nothing really memorable but this year, this graduating class has the opportunity to do so and I am sure previous graduates wish they could have had such an experience. So with all that being said, CONGRATULATIONS to THE CLASS OF 2020!! Hind sight is always 2020, continue to be Optimists, continue to Be Different, Be Unique and Rise Above!
Army Mom says
Well said!!! Class 2020
it’s an experience and different from any graduation. Be proud and good luck to all.
Jackie McDonald says
What a wonderful idea and such a memorable graduation for the 2020 graduates. Everyone should be very happy to participate in this affair.
Beverly Taylor says
So Glad the Senior will finally have at least one special event to celebrate. Congratulations to all of the graduating Seniors.
Crying happy tears! says
Thank you for everyone who was involved in this decision!!! We are absolutely thrilled! My senior is so happy to be celebrating at the Speedway! It is not traditional but in these different times it is the safest and that is what is most important! Keeping everyone safe!! We are very grateful for everyone’s effort!! Congratulations Class of 2020!
That is awesome. Something everyone will remember.
Happy Citizen says
Bravo to those who came up with such a creative solution to the problem! This will be a graduation to always remember!!
Half of the school year has been disrupted. There were no final exams. How is the districts determining who will graduate? Is the class of 2020 be given a free pass to graduation? Pandemic or not, if that’s the case, it ABSOLUTELY unfair.
That is fabulous!!! What a wonderful idea!!
Pete Celestino says
It is a great idea and it will be a graduation to remember. Awesome job Flagler Schools.
Sheila Knighton says
Flagler pulls out all the stops again!
Wow! This is Uber Cool and certainly a graduation that both grads and their family will never forget. Great job Flagler BoE and a big thank you to the France family. I hope it makes the national news.
How sad for the graduating class!! This is absolutley heart breaking to hear! Could you imagine having to graduate like this!? And on top of it they say they were going to wait till summer and now its 2 days away?!
How many will not be able to show due to the current pandemic!? How many students are truely responsible and will not put there community at risk by participating in a social event that may harm others!?
So sorry for you class of 2020, and im sorry our leaders have failed you.
Just a thought says
The graduation will be at the end of May. Not in two days. They are staying in the vehicles. Not spreading any virus. Did you read the article?
Obviously Carolyn is one of those persons who see everything in a negative light……can’t please everyone
Kay Allen says
This literally made me tear up. We had an FPC graduate several years ago and this is such an important milestone. Love the students creativity!!! Our FPC Alum is graduating (uneventfully) from Vandy with her Master’s, but they will have a Graduation Anniversary in Nashville next year to honor the students…a year after. :-) Congrats to all the graduates everywhere!
This is soooo Sad!! We feel so sorry for you class of 2020! Sorry they did you like this : ( . A true disgrace for these students. Sad.
Ralph hoskins says
I agree,, my daughter has busted her ass for 12 years,, no prom… no nothing… and now a redneck drive through graduation…. me and her mother are pissed and she is so disappointed…. the class of 2020… got screwed!!! We want to watch her walk the stage with all the rest…. Flagler palm coast …. you suck….
Graduation has never been about those graduating. Sad but true. Who has ever wanted 2 walk in a parade the sit for hours just to throw a hat???
I think that idea ROCKS!!! The article mentions how this plan to celebrate your kids completing 12 years of school may not appeal to everyone…..so they can skip it!
How cool that will be !!
What a shame. I feel sorry for the kids graduating. This is no way to do it.
Army Mom says
CONGRATS to ALL the Seniors of 2020! I am very thankful to the France family for letting these seniors take a victory lap. I just want to say that if graduation had been pushed back my son would have missed it because he leaves for the army early June. I am sure that there are others that would have missed out too. Class of 2020, it may not have ended the way you expected, but you’re definitely doing it a way that NO other has. BE PROUD, BE VERY PROUD! CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL SENIORS near and far. I too hope it makes national news!
Omg could you imagine this happened to you as a graduate it would be devastating but as a community if we all pretend to smile and be polite maybe this can seem like something significant for these poor children. I guess this is better than nothing but still so sad. Hopefully they will see us adults pretending to be positive and the effects will rub off on them! Just keep smiling!!!
Philip and Carol Hampton says
This is soooooo, sooooo AWESOME!!!!! We are so excited for our grandson, who is a senior at Matanzas, and for all of his friends and for all of the other seniors who are graduating in Flagler County! What an AMAZING and UPLIFTING solution to these dire times we are living in. To some of you who see this as negative, Connor’s great-parents, who are no longer with us, would say “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!” This is something these young people will never, ever forget. Thank you so much to the France family and Daytona International Speedway!!!! The best gift any of these students will get for graduation!!!!!
The Voice Of Reason says
Have you ever been to Daytona International Speedway? I am a Nascar fan who’s been there many times and this facility will blow you away! It is amazing! First class all the way. This will be beyond memorable. The France family is to be commended. Amazed anyone could find reason to complain.
Chris Pryor says
That is wonderful news! Thank you to the France family and to Flagler School’s leadership for working this out for the graduates. Congratulations class of 2020!
This is such a great idea! My son is graduating and he is very excited. Instead of a boring sit down ceremony he get’s to have a one of a kind ceremony and is making Flagler history. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard on these plans. Thank you to the France family and thank you to everyone at the speedway who will be involved!
And for anyone with something negative to say, keep it to yourself in less it directly involves you. Young kids know how to roll with the situation. This is not a bad thing. It is creative and inventive.
I feel sorry for the “Negative Nellies” on here who disapprove of this wonderful event. Put on your mask, turn on the TV, and mind your own business.
An FPC student says
As a Graduate who will be going through this.. most of us are NOT happy with this at all and want just a regular graduation
Matanzas Student says
EXACTLY. We want a normal graduation. Not something historic. We don’t care about the publicity but that’s all Flagler cares about is press cause this is all one big stunt for them. All these adults got the chance to have a normal senior year and a “boring” graduation but that’s all everyone talks about and it’s all they preached to us but suddenly it’s not a big deal?! Flagler county doesn’t care about the class of 2020s wishes. Just whatever looks good on the news
A student’ s grandparent!
I think that it is so awesome that these students are having a graduation with their peers! I think that the FRANCE family and the speedway that offered this to our graduates. THANK YOU!!! It may not be the boring traditional graduation. But it will definitely be memorable. And that’s what you want to have great memories!!! Congratulations to the class 2020 “ YOU. ROC!!
proud father of a 2020 grad. congrats to all of you.. FPC and MHS . through the hard times comes strength and character. enjoy this time with your friends, family, classmates. and remember, sky is the limit for you all. thank you to the France family, nascar, and the student body for having graduation on time. DIS is a great location, and large enough to make it memorable for every graduate. enjoy this time of your lives. we graduated on the football field at FPC in 1987. having it at an ICONIC location is amazing.
CLASS OF 2020 . proud of all of you.
class of 1987 alumni, proud parent of a 2020 graduate.