Palmerton eyes graduation at raceway
Palmerton Area School District appears to be the latest district turning to Pocono Raceway to host its 2020 commencement ceremony on June 15, the same night it was scheduled to have graduation at Penn’s Peak.
“None of us dreamed we would be presented with this situation, but the administration has helped us come up with an idea that will hopefully be memorable for the class and help make up for many of the milestones we missed out on,” Class President Mitchell Hourt said in addressing Palmerton’s school board Tuesday night.
With the likelihood of being able to have graduation at Penn’s Peak dwindling by the day, the senior class was presented a survey on May 7 with several different options including a complete virtual graduation, graduation in the high school auditorium with parents permitted to enter on a restricted basis, waiting to hold an in person graduation until later in the summer, holding a virtual graduation with the hopes of holding an in person graduation at a later date or having graduation at Pocono Raceway.
The Pocono graduation, Hourt said, warranted the most consideration and he was part of a group from the district who visited the track on Friday.
“When you take a lap around that track and stand in the winner’s circle, I can guarantee you this will be an awesome experience,” he said.
Ricky Durst, senior director of marketing and fan engagement for Pocono Raceway, said the team at the track is thrilled to be able to partner with the district to provide this shared experience to the Class of 2020.
“North Pocono School District came to us with the original idea and we knew it was right in our wheelhouse and knew it was something we could pull off,” Durst said. “We got clearances from Harrisburg and have developed a program that will honor the graduates while maintaining the health and safety restrictions that are in place.”
Each graduate will get a victory lap around the track and then be positioned in their vehicles with their families facing the winner’s circle to listen to the speeches. Blue Ridge Cable TV13 was brought on board to provide the audio and visual components to the ceremony, which will be broadcast on the channel at a later date.
“We have two, large screens where biographical information can be posted for each graduate,” Durst said. “The main thing is we’re asking people to stay in their cars. That is the only way this works and the only way we can maintain that safe atmosphere.”
Durst said given the space at the track, there is essentially no limit on how many cars they can let in to the ceremony, though the graduates and their immediate family members will be in a VIP area with a better-positioned view of the screens and the program.
“We could essentially line the entire track with cars celebrating the graduates almost creating a parade like feel,” Durst said. “Capacity won’t be an issue.”
Interim Palmerton Superintendent Dr. Alan Lonoconus said the proposal from the track officials was impressive.
“I was very impressed with how it is laid out,” he said. “If they can do this for thousands of people, they will be able to accommodate our smaller crowd.”
Hourt said given the fact that funds raised for the prom and class outing have not been spent, there is money available to cover costs above what the board would be willing to put toward the ceremony. It would take a majority class vote, however, to use the money for that purpose.
Mary Jo King, parent of a Palmerton senior, asked the board Tuesday if the district would be willing to cover the cost should the class decide it didn’t want to use its own funds for graduation.
“There is a chance a prom could happen in August and they may want to use the funds for that, “ King said. “With these kids having been through so much, I’d hate to see if they decide not to use their class funds toward this, that this wouldn’t go forward.”
Board President Kathy Fallow said the governing body would let the survey of the senior class play out before moving forward with that discussion.
Hourt said there is also an optional fireworks presentation available as part of the Pocono Raceway ceremony for $2,900.
Lonoconus said the district is surveying families to see how many seniors would need transportation to the track for the ceremony.