Sanniyah Haye Arrived a few hours early Friday night for her high school graduation in an unusual location – the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The 18-year-old said the ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “It didn’t go with what each of us expected.”
Haye was in a car with her aunt – who was driving – and her mother, grandfather, and grandmother. She wore a traditional hat and dress.
A total of 256 seniors from Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School received their diplomas in their cars with their families and then put an approximately kilometer-long “victory lap” around the racetrack.
They heard a graduation address – as well as remarks from the class validator – on their car radios using the speedway’s low-power FM transmitter.
Steve Buuck, CEO of Faith Lutheran, said Thursday that after all the things high school seniors have missed this year, he hopes the graduation will be a “unique, unforgettable experience” that they will remember.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the private Christian school – along with other schools in the Las Vegas Valley – was unable to hold a traditional graduation ceremony. Some postponed their ceremonies while others took steps to find alternatives.
The Friday night event marked the first time a high school graduation was held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“We’re just excited to give these kids the opportunity to get started,” Speedway spokesman Jeff Motley said Thursday, adding that this will be an unusual story for graduates to tell for decades to come.
A handful of smaller graduation ceremonies will be held on the speedway for the next week, Motley said, adding he wasn’t sure which schools were attending.
Faith Lutheran is Nevada’s largest private school with more than 1,900 students. The campus is located near downtown Summerlin.
In early April, the school considered options for graduation – whether to postpone it until the summer or hold a personal ceremony.
School officials looked for large venues to rent and grabbed the speedway.
Buuck said it was a “crazy idea” to graduate from the speedway at first, but since it can hold tens of thousands of spectators, it provided plenty of room for about 3,000 attendees to spread out.
However, after consulting with health professionals, school officials decided that attendees should stay in their cars in order to respect social distancing guidelines, he said.
On Friday night, when each student and their family arrived on the speedway, they were given a checkered flag, a souvenir mask with the Faith Lutheran logo on it, and a graduation program.
Ryan Schofield, 17, was in the driver’s seat of a car with his parents. They arrived about an hour and a half before the ceremony to get into one of the rows marked with chalk.
He said he was glad that, given the circumstances, the school could do something for the graduation and the opportunity to see friends.
After the school closed and switched to distance learning, Schofield said he focused on the “little things” that were under his control. “You make the best of it.”
He plans to go to college in Hawaii to study oceanography and environmental science.
Haye said she was grateful for the opportunity to hold a graduation ceremony as many schools in the Clark County School District are not running out this spring.
She plans to attend Virginia State University on an academic scholarship to study computer engineering.
It was a stormy Friday on the speedway when families listened to the closing speakers and honked their horns after everyone finished. Several graduates got out of their cars to spin the tassels.
After a 30-minute ceremony, each car drove to the start line individually. During this time, the name and information of each student, as well as their future plans, were disclosed.
Then each car drove an almost complete lap around the speedway. However, students and their families were not allowed to travel at NASCAR speed. You have been instructed to keep a speed limit of 40 miles per hour.
Valedictorian Philip Root was the first to get his diploma on the racetrack.
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at [email protected] or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.