LAKELAND, Fla. - Graduation is a major milestone, but this year most high school seniors won't walk across a stage to receive their diploma due to closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools in Polk County still wanted to give graduating students a grand sendoff, so they lit up their stadiums Thursday in tribute to students' accomplishments. With the flip of a switch, the class of 2020 got a deserving moment in the spotlight during a time of darkness for so many.
“It is an unfortunate circumstance for them and our hearts go out to them," Polk County Schools Athletic Director Dan Talbot said.
Lights at stadiums across Polk County beamed bright Thursday night for high school seniors missing out on graduation.
“For those seniors who haven’t done it but want to do it then we need to figure out a way for them to do that because it’s important to them and it should be important it’s a milestone in their life," Talbot said.
Talbot hopes seniors will get the chance to walk across the stage, possibly sometime in June. Until then, it was a moment of community and togetherness Thursday night as many isolate at home.
"It's the athletic community letting people know that we are thinking about all the seniors in the class of 2020. Athletics is a big part of our community here in Polk County, but we want to everyone know our seniors we're thinking about them," Talbot said.
Multiple stadiums, both high school and college, flipped on their lights at exactly 20:20 military time Thursday as a tribute to the class of 2020.
On the field at Bryant Stadium lay a special tribute to their next-door neighbor Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.
Lakeland High School's football booster club wrote a special message to the doctors and nurses working on the front lines.
"They are putting their lives on the line and risking it all to provide myself a better place and a safer place," Talbot said.