JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — Jefferson County honored the graduating class of 2020 with a parade through the entire county and a virtual graduation ceremony posted online.
Like most school districts, graduation plans had to be altered after the COVID-19 pandemic ended the school year early.
On Saturday, cars of high school seniors lined up all around Jefferson County at each respective middle school: Jefferson Middle, Maury Middle, Rush Strong School and White Pine School. From there, graduates created a caravan of cars, ending at Jefferson County High School.
Some students chose to decorate their cars, like senior Sarah Finnell. She opted to create a "face mask" for her car out of a fitted bed sheet.
"I didn't imagine I would be driving with a mask on my car, but this only happens once," Finnell laughed.
Navigating graduation season is a first for the Jefferson County High School class of 2020. The usual traditions are in reverse.
"I wanted it so bad," Finnell admitted. "I wanted that 4-hour long, boring ceremony really badly."
Instead, like most seniors across the country, they had to settle for a different route.
"I was really mad at first but now I'm just kind of... I'm more relieved that they actually did something instead of not doing anything at all," Finnell admitted.
The Saturday parade from every corner of the county ending at the high school brought the graduates together one last time.
"It's pretty cool to be the class of 2020 because nobody else has ever gotten this," senior Seth Sauerbrei nodded.
The community lined the streets with balloons, signs, horns and support. All at once, Jefferson Countians paused for a moment to support the class of COVID-19.
Instead of pomp and circumstance, it was pickup trucks and caravans. After the final lap around the high school, with teachers cheering each student on, the school revealed the official graduation ceremony through a screen in a graduation video.
Earlier in the week, over the course of three days, graduates were invited to walk the stage in the JCHS auditorium in small groups. Each student got to wear a cap and gown and bring two family members to sit in the audience and watch.
"This wasn't our ideal choice for a graduation, but compared to the alternatives, this was far superior," Rebecca Finchum, one of the speakers at graduation, said.
A sparse and socially distant audience watched as cameras recorded every name and walk. It was all edited into a virtual graduation video, so everyone could get a front row seat to the ceremony that made history.
Seniors said it was a celebration they won't forget and are grateful the community came together to support them. Community members mentioned they hope the parade can become a tradition for every graduating class.