Earlier this year, so many graduates missed out on physically crossing the graduation stage to get their college or high school diploma. Many only celebrated virtually.
This weekend, Texas Woman’s University is creating a one-of-a-kind opportunity to make up for this once in a life time accomplishment.
Around 1,200 TWU graduates will get to drive a lap around Texas Motor Speedway and literally cross the finish line to officially celebrate getting that degree.
One of those grads will be Taylor Patterson, whose 24th birthday falls on the special speedway event.
She has a lot to celebrate after a year of uncertainty and chaos.
She was able to graduate in May with her bachelor of fine arts degree, with a major in graphic design.
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But like many others, she was only ever able to mark the occasion in her living room by watching a virtual graduation ceremony stream with her name on a screen.
“There are many milestones in life that I think of and graduating college is one of the biggest ones for me,” she said. “So hearing that COVID-19 took away our graduation, it just didn’t feel real. Honestly I still feel like I haven’t graduated even though I have my diploma and have started a job.”
Patterson said she is excited to find that closure this weekend.
The speedway event will be similar to what some high schools did back in May.
TWU students will get to drive slowly around the mile and a half track. They're allowed up to two cars of family and friends.
Once they get to the finish line, only the students will be able to step out of the car – decked out in their cap and gowns – to get their diploma cover and a socially distant photo with the chancellor and other photo opportunities.
“I think it’s a really awesome idea and it’s so family oriented, too,” Patterson said. “I get to have my family come. My fiancé can’t believe it. He’s a big truck guy and he’s like, ‘I can’t believe I get to drive on the Texas Motor Speedway!’ It’s so fun, it’s awesome. I’m excited to get out and take that picture and finally cross the finish line.”
Another graduate is Lou Ann Hintz, who got her PhD in Occupational Therapy during Friday's ceremony.
“I’ve had so many people support me and help get me to this point. I didn’t do this by myself,” said Lou Ann Hintz, who earned her PhD.
One of her sons placed her doctoral hood over her head during the event.
“Who gets to say when they graduate, it was at Texas Motor Speedway? It’s something I’ll always remember,” said Hintz.
There will also be a live stream online so that supporters can watch from home.
The 1,200 grads will be spread out in time slots later Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, the rain forecast pushed back some of those time slots that were scheduled for Friday morning. Those students have been rescheduled to walk on Saturday afternoon.
The ceremony on Friday will begin at noon once the rain clears.
TWU said about 500 people who already graduated in May or August who wanted to have this celebration are participating in the ceremonies that will take place over Friday and Saturday.