ETOWAH, Tenn. — The COVID-19 pandemic cut the year short for the class of 2020 meaning all the exciting Senior experiences also looked different for students across the country.
"It was heartbreaking," explained senior Kaylyn Knox. "Our last day of school, last time we walked in the hallways with each other, we had no idea that was going to be our last time."
In McMinn County, seniors at Central High School were trying to stay positive through the challenging and confusing end of the school year, many were looking forward to graduation.
"I believe everybody dreams about graduation," said CHS senior Macy Parker. "You walk into high school and get that big diploma and say 'Hey I made it!"
"It's this one last time for us, to really be together in the same room with people you've been to school with for 10, 11, 12, 13 years," said Knox.
But when Central High School of McMinn County announced their plans last week, students and parents were disappointed.
The plan features a walk-thru style ceremony that limits the number of guests per graduate to 6. Each family group will move through the school one at a time. As soon as the diploma is picked up, the student and family are asked to leave campus. Valedictorians and salutatorians will give their speech through a recorded video.
After details were released, parents and students took to Facebook to express their thoughts.
"If I can't graduate with my friends, I don't want to do it. There's no point," said Knox.
Now, parents are working to give students a more traditional ceremony they feel they deserve.
They have planned a special event at the county's Bicentennial Park fields that has plenty of room for social distancing and the seniors can have the experience together.
"I think it's going to be great, I'm really humbled that there are this many people in the community who are willing to put this much time and effort into giving us a traditional graduation," said Knox.
"We want to look back at this and say 'well you know this happened because we overcame it because everyone came together' and I'm thankful for the small town I do live in," said Parker.
This isn't the first time parents have stepped up at the school this semester. On Saturday, they held a prom night for the students after the school canceled it.
Parents also organized a parade through the community to recognize the graduates.
Parents who are organizing the efforts say an alternative graduation ceremony has been planned for Thursday, July 23 at 7 p.m. and will keep families updated through the Central Class of 2020 Facebook page.
They are also taking up donations to fund the event. You can donate here.
CHS Parent Heather Lingerfelt said "We think this is great that our students have both options that they can choose what they are most comfortable with or participate in both ceremonies. These seniors have missed out on so much this year! We want them to end their high school years with something that will be a memory that lasts a lifetime."
A few miles down the road, there's been a similar reaction from McMinn County High School families.
Students there normally graduate on the school's football field, but this year will graduate in the gym, walk-thru style, split into groups of 60.
We have not heard yet if parents there have planned an alternative for students.