SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – COVID-19 has put a damper on a number of graduation celebrations across the region. However, in Sullivan County, graduates could be saying, “It’s Bristol Baby,” by the time they grab their certificate, as the county school system plans to hold a graduation event at the World’s Fastest Half Mile, also known as Bristol Motor Speedway.
Sullivan County school leaders said details are currently being worked on for the speedway event, in which seniors will “Cross the Finish Line.”
“We would come in very similar to the way a lot of folks come in to the Speedway in Lights event and that we would come and circle around the track, we would go down in to the lower area,” said Supervisor of Curriculum Instruction Brent Palmer.
Palmer said cars would then circle back on to the track and stop close to the finish line.
“[We would] hand a card over to an announcer who would announce the graduate and some information about them and then after we announce, then they would go across the finish line,” he said. “When they got to that finish line area, we would hand them a certificate.”
Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox said the BMS idea would be in addition to a traditional graduation experience on July 31st and August 1st for all four high schools in the county.
That idea was decided based on the results of a survey that was administered to all members of the senior class of 2020 in Sullivan County Schools. It was chosen by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent over an option of an in-person graduation experiences that would be recorded and limit each graduate to a total of 10 total family members and guests.
However, the plan for a traditional graduation experience at a later date is subject to change based on reopening progress and further guidance from the Sullivan County Health Department.
“We would have to go through all the three phases before we could actually have a mass gathering such as a graduation,” said Director of Schools Dr. David Cox, noting that Sullivan County is currently in Phase I of the reopening plan.
Cox said Sullivan County Schools were approached by officials with BMS about the idea for graduation. The event will be optional and separate from the traditional graduation.
In a statement, Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell said, “Several weeks ago when Bristol Motor Speedway saw that this pandemic could have additional implications on our local high school seniors, we saw an opportunity here to create a special “WOW” moment for their graduation. We connected with a number of area schools to begin conversations and let them know that we would welcome their commencement ceremonies at the Last Great Colosseum as our schedule allows.”
Dr. Cox also said the ideas on how to conduct the traditional ceremony were created as part of a focus group of student leaders chosen by the high school principals.
The dates and times for the planned traditional graduation for 2020 are as follows:
- July 31st at 6:00 pm – Sullivan East High School
- July 31st at 8:00 pm – Sullivan Central High School
- August 1st at 6:00 pm – Sullivan South High School
- August 1st at 8:00 pm – Sullivan North High School
Dates and times for the speedway event will be announced as soon as possible.