DALLAS (AP) — It wasn't the graduation ceremony Lou Ann Hintz had pictured as she worked toward her doctorate, but driving across the finish line at Texas Motor Speedway to mark the achievement turned out to be pretty thrilling.
“It is a disappointment not to have the traditional, but this is a cool thing to get to do," said Hintz, who graduated this month from Texas Woman’s University in Denton. "It’s something that I will always remember.”
Across Texas and the U.S. this year, high schools and universities scrambled to find ways to give students a meaningful graduation amid the coronavirus pandemic. There have been virtual events, drive-through ceremonies in parking lots and more traditional in-person events that took several days to ensure social distancing.
And some schools like TWU, took the creativity up a notch.
Images from those atypical ceremonies provide a poignant reminder of the ways life changed as the coronavirus spread.
Hintz, 59, said driving around the 1.5-mile speedway in Fort Worth with her two sons — ages 27 and 30 — made for a meaningful graduation. Once she got to the finish line, she got out of the car and one of her son's performed the hooding ceremony for her doctorate in occupational therapy.
“For me, it meant a lot because I know a lot of universities were doing virtual commencements," she said.
TWU Provost Carolyn Kapinus said that after holding a virtual ceremony in May, administrators talked with students and knew they needed to try something different for winter graduation.
“The virtual ceremony just didn't provide the kind of acknowledgment and closure that they really wanted,” Kapinus said.
Texas Motor Speedway, home to NASCAR and IndyCar races, has also hosted about 30 high school graduations as well this year, spokesman David Hart said. For those ceremonies, the students sat in socially distanced chairs near the finish line with their families watching a giant screen from their vehicles.
Hintz said that as fun as it was to have an unusual graduation, she'd always envisioned the professors that helped her along the way being there.
But, she said, it helped to at least participate in an in-person ceremony,
“To get to show up and do something like this was really kind of a tribute to and for all of them as well,” Hintz said.