NORWALK, Ohio — Momentous occasions are being modified due to COVID-19.
“Our graduates still have the sense of a ceremony,” Brad Cooley said, “And I feel it’s vitally important that kids are able to see their friends and classmates receive that diploma.”
Cooley is the principal at Norwalk High School. He’s planning the school’s upcoming alternative commencement ceremony.
“Have each graduate remain in the vehicle with their car,” Cooley said, “So there’s a lot of talk about in-person graduation and that will not be the case.”
Norwalk High School seniors will earn their diplomas in a drive-thru setting at the Summit Motorsports Park.
“I wanted to find a way that we could kind of gel these two things together where everyone remains safe in their vehicle,” Cooley said, “Yet I still get to see my friends and classmates receive that coveted high school diploma.”
While Summit Motorsports Park is allowing these students to practice safe social distancing at their graduation, the owner of the park recently made headlines after sharing his frustrations with the state’s stay-at-home order, put in place to encourage social distancing.
Bill Bader Jr. took to Facebook where he argued the COVID-19 pandemic is not as bad as the experts have claimed and that he planned to announce upcoming racing events at the track in Norwalk.
“We are opening. Summit Motorsports Park is not going to wait for permission,” Bader said on Facebook. “Summit Motorsports Park is not gonna wait for Dr. Fauci and wait for Amy Acton and wait for Mike DeWine because none of them even know I exist and none of them really care. At this point in the interest in self-preservation and wanting to maintain an incredible legacy that my family started here in 1974, we are opening this racetrack, we will open this year.”
Principal Cooley said Huron County health officials approved the location for the drive-thru ceremony.
“That is over 400 acres and when you’re saying we have to ensure the safety of our community, safety of our parents and kids, that one definitely rose to the top of the list,” Cooley said.
Administrators will wear gloves and N95 masks while handing out certificates while families remain in their vehicles.
“We’ve been locked down with our family for seven or eight weeks now,” Tracey Sommers said. “So being in a car with them, it’ll be fine.”
Sommers said while the graduation situation is not ideal, it will be one her son Mitchell remembers for years to come.
“Some days are better than others, but just trying to be positive and reflecting on all the blessings on all the things he did get to do,” Sommers said, “Trying not to focus on the ‘what ifs’ and the things he did not get to do.”
Norwalk City School District Superintendent George Fisk released the following statement regarding the ceremony:
“We have worked with Mr. Tim Hollinger and his team from Huron County Public Health to ensure we have the appropriate safeguards in place to comply with Governor DeWine's Stay Safe Ohio order. On April 30, we received confirmation from HCPH that our graduation plan was approved.
Thus, our team at Norwalk High School is now developing the logistical plan for the "Drive in" style graduation at Summit Motorsports Park. Our goal is to release the details for the graduation to our families within the next two weeks.
As a district we are extremely grateful to Mr. Bill Bader Jr. and Summit Motorsports Park for helping to create this amazingly unique graduation experience for the NHS Class of 2020.”
Nearly 200 Norwalk seniors will receive their drive-thru diplomas on Saturday, May 30.