'It was amazing’: Henrico Schools celebrate seniors with ‘graduation victory lap’ at Richmond Raceway

Henrico graduates take "victory lap"

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico Public Schools is not letting their seniors race off from high school without a “graduation victory lap” at the Richmond Raceway!

Wednesday kicked off the first day of this part of the graduation celebration for its 2020 graduates.

In May, the school board and principals announced a three-part celebration after original plans for the Class of 2020 were upended due to COVID-19.

The first part is a virtual graduation ceremony watch party on June 8-11.

“It will include many of the elements of a traditional graduation, such as student speeches and remarks from local dignitaries,” Henrico Schools said. “It is during this event that our seniors will be officially pronounced “graduates.” Most important of all, our seniors will each have a well-earned moment in the spotlight during a video slideshow. Graduates’ names will be announced ceremoniously as their photos are shown.”

The second part of the celebration is the graduation “Victory Lap” which will take place on June 10-12, with June 13 being a rain date.

“Seniors graduating from our high schools will arrive in decorated vehicles (one vehicle per graduate, nine-passenger limit) and be directed to the track by a Richmond Raceway pace car,” Henrico Schools said. “Once in “pole position,” you’ll be able to tune into HCPS’ student radio station to hear “Pomp and Circumstance” (and possibly other special messages!) while cruising toward victory lane.”

“For some of them they’re seeing their classmates for the first time,” said Superintendent Amy Cashwell. “They were shouting at each other from a distance and really being able to cheer each other on; the collective feeling of coming together for a celebration has really been made possible in this unique venue and we’re so thrilled we’re able to replicate that.”

The Richmond Raceway offered this opportunity to school systems in the area after the pandemic caused issues for many planned ceremonies.

“I wish you could see my smile through this [mask], that should say it all, but really the smiles of seeing the students as they cross the start/finish line - that really says it all,” said Richmond Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier.

Administrators at all high schools were also focused on making sure these seniors got the recognition they deserved.

“We have been so excited since this announcement was made,” said Mills E. Godwin Principal Leigh Dunavant. “We were looking forward to doing something for our graduates and this is the perfect thing to do in this time.”

"Like every single graduation we’ve ever held in Henrico County, this one comes with the same amount of energy and excitement and the true desire to celebrate our students,” Cashwell added.

For these students, they are getting an experience far different than walking across the stage for graduation.

"It was really different; not a lot of graduates can say they ran around the track,” said Stephen Spivey, a Mills E. Godwin graduate.

"They’ve had that watch party, they’re officially graduated and now we want them to take that victory lap, soak in the moment to celebrate and know that the entire Henrico team and community is behind them and wishing them well,” Cashwell added.

Seniors and their family members were able to ride together in their cars as they made their way around the historic oval.

"Just to be able to deliver some memories and joy to these students and their families, I'm thrilled with how much they've embraced this,” Bickmeier said.

“It was amazing, I loved it so much,” said Rishika Nayak, a Mills E. Godwin graduate. “I appreciate my teachers for coming out and just supporting us through this. It’s been a really difficult time through coronavirus but this was absolutely amazing.”

But regardless of what this ceremony may have looked like, it meant an incredible deal to some of these graduates’ parents.

“I’ve got a brother and sister and I’m the first one to ever graduate out of the both of them,” Spivey said. “I think for my dad it was a relief that one of his sons finally went on to graduate and go to college. It felt really amazing to have some support.”

For some of these graduates themselves, it was also an opportunity to look back and see what they’ve overcome.

“It felt so good because after all the BS I’ve been through back through elementary and middle school and everything, I had a rough life and didn’t really expect to graduate,” said Eliah Mapp, a Mills E. Godwin graduate.

The victory lap schedule is as follows:

June 10

  • 10 a.m.: Deep Run
  • 1 p.m.: Mills E. Godwin
  • 4 p.m.: Douglas S. Freeman

June 11

  • 10 a.m.: Glen Allen
  • 1 p.m.: Hermitage
  • 4 p.m.: J.R. Tucker

June 12

  • 10 a.m.: Highland Springs
  • 1 p.m.: Varina
  • 4 p.m.: Henrico
  • Approximately 5:30 p.m.: Academy at Virginia Randolph

"That was amazing! I loved it so much,” said Isabella Stewart, a Mills E. Godwin graduate. “It was a great alternative to our graduation and we're going to miss Godwin so much!"

Mills E. Godwin Seniors are taking their “Victory Lap” around the Richmond Raceway! Henrico reporter Karina Bolster - NBC12 is there for the celebration! All Henrico County Seniors will get the chance to do this, more here: https://www.nbc12.com/2020/05/11/henrico-schools-celebrate-seniors-with-graduation-victory-lap-richmond-raceway/

Posted by NBC12 on Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The final part of commencement celebrations will allow graduates to pose in caps and gowns and accept their diplomas. A professional photographer will take individual photos. Each graduate will have a time scheduled for them to come to school, which will be communicated for each school. Henrico Schools will cover the cost of one 8-by-10 print for each graduate.

“There is no denying the disappointment we all feel at not being able to gather at VCU’s Siegel Center in June to watch our seniors parade across the arena floor in person. But the legacy of this class will always be, “they did whatever it took” — and that includes graduation,” Henrico Schools said.

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