Victory Lap: Dover High grads receive diplomas at speedway

Capital School District teachers and administrators wave checkered flags after 2020 Dover High School graduates receive their diplomas at Dover International Speedway on Thursday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — When students accept their diplomas they cross the finish line of high school; Dover High’s Class of 2020 took a victory lap to seal theirs — around the race track.

The graduates — who officially celebrated commencement virtually Wednesday — accepted their diplomas from the school board after two laps at Dover International Speedway. The students were dressed in their commencement regalia as they circled the track. Music blared, horns honked and balloons floated through car windows. High school staff waved checkered flags and cheered as the Class of 2020 officially became graduates.

“It’s different, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Ladayjah Gilbert as she lined up in the sea of cars before they were led onto the track.

From enlisting into the military, to pursuing higher education, to joining the workforce, this class of 2020 agreed that this was a unique way to step into the world.

“When the class of 2020 entered the scene at Dover High School, I knew they were different. There was just something about them. Their vibe. Their personalities. Their maturity. Their spirit. They were unique, and I loved it,” Principal Courtney Voshell said at the previous night’s virtual commencement. “Within this class there are leaders, change-agents — and all of you are champions.”

The seniors’ year changed almost overnight — in mid-March, they went home after school only for buildings to eventually close for the rest of the year and learning to move to remote instruction.

2020 Dover High School graduate Sam Arkuwoille Jr. smiles before driving his two laps around the Monster Mile.

“It’s kind of sad. You can’t have the high school experience as a senior,” Robert Cole noted.

“But it also opens your eyes to new things, new opportunities,” Briannah Gilmore added.

The two agreed that this was a nice new memory, though.

“It’s something special,” Ms. Gilmore said.

Carson Strickler described it as “pretty sweet.”

“Just thinking about all the times I’ve missed in school — but I’d rather take this opportunity,” he said. “I’m sure it’s nice to have the traditional one, but leading up to this? I was like ‘Woah. This is something different.’ It’s something totally new.”

Alexis Baughman agreed that this is something a little more fun. Her family was leading the way on their lap around the track.
“It’s exciting. Nerve-racking,” she said. “It feels like an accomplishment, but at the same time, none of it feels real.”

As the teachers and administrators watched the students’ cars pull onto the track, Principal Courtney Voshell said it was exciting to watch the students.

2020 Dover High School graduate Taylor Jackson receives her diploma at Victory Lane at Dover International Speedway during the Conferment of diplomas on Thursday.

“They’ve earned it and we wanted to do something special for them, in the wake of being closed for school since March,” she said. “We just wanted them to go out in style and hopefully they have a good time tonight.”

Superintendent Dan Shelton said this was awesome.

He noted while the district would have loved to do something more traditional, the restrictions made it nearly impossible with 450 graduates.

“This is a way to get them something super special, something super fun. I just think it’s amazing,” he said. “It’s just so exciting. I’m just excited for them, I’m excited for their families. It was a rough way for them to end the year. They had to miss out on a lot of stuff, but this is something they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives.”

A lot of the same emotions that come with graduating high school held true, though. For Taylor Mazanek, it was bitter sweet to don her cap and gown and accept her diploma.

2020 Dover High School graduates take a lap on the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway during the Conferment of diplomas on Thursday.

“We’ve been celebrating for quite a long time, so finally getting my diploma feels really nice,” she said.

While Ms. Mazanek was with her peers who would have preferred something a bit more traditional, the alternative was welcomed.

“Honestly, this is really unique and something I feel like a lot of people would never get to experience to begin with,” she said.
“So I think, although it’s unfortunate we don’t get a real graduation, this is a really good way to make up for it.”

Watching her senior year change gears in March was tough, she said, but it did teach her how to change her mindset.

“I really learned to just not let everything be negative,” she said. “It’s really important to focus on the positives in life and, although this is unfortunate, what they’re doing for us is very positive and it makes an impact on their students and shows people how much Dover really cares.”

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