CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Tytianah Ward sat in the passenger seat of a parked SUV at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. She adjusted her bright green graduation cap as family members packed in the rows behind her beam with pride.
COVID-19 may have canceled the high school graduation she’d always pictured, but this version might be more memorable.
“Obviously, I thought I’d be walking across the stage but, I’m really glad for this experience,” she said.
Ward is one of thousands of graduates in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, who accepted their diplomas Friday inside their vehicles on the NASCAR track.
People in decorated cars, trucks and SUVs parked outside the track and watched graduation speeches on the big screen and listened over the radio.
Grace Tucker’s SUV was decked out with a giant print of her senior photo. When school shut down back in March amid the pandemic, Tucker expected she’d soon be walking the halls of Central Cabarrus High School again.
“I honestly thought when we were told we’d be home for two weeks we would go back. I never thought it would last this long,” Tucker told the Associated Press.
While Ward misses her friends, she’s welcomed the unexpected time at home before she starts pursuing a degree in engineering at North Carolina State University.
“I’ve got to really, really relax and just take time for myself and get my mental health in check before I head off to college and actually have to start my degree,” she said.
As the speeches ended and the “Pomp and Circumstance” played over car radios, vehicles were ushered onto the track. Teachers lined the asphalt and cheered as eager graduates stuck their hands out of the passenger side window and accepted their diplomas, crossing a finish line they could actually see.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.