Instead of walking across the stage Saturday, Meigs County’s class of 2020 seniors took a drive.

Meigs County’s seniors got an opportunity to participate in a parade on the day they were supposed to receive their diplomas.

The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe has put a temporary halt to mass gatherings. But Meigs County found a way to recognize the seniors for their hard work the past four years while following guidelines.

“We wanted to honor these kids. The idea came about as we were trying to plan, we knew we would have to postpone the actual graduation,” Meigs Supervisor and Director of College and Career Readiness Carmen Choat said. “So we picked this day and this time so that they could have a memory on the actual time that they would have been graduating. I know for many of these kids this was a somber moment because they weren’t actually going to be walking across the stage today to receive their diplomas.”

Choat said there is a tentative plan to hold an actual graduation on June 20 at 8 p.m. on the football field. This year’s graduation will include Class Night as part of the same event.

But the focus on Saturday morning was giving the seniors a well-deserved applause, which couldn’t have been done without a lot of help from a lot of people. Approximately 50 cars were in the parade.

“I want to thank the community for its support,” Choat said. “I know the City of Decatur and the county have given us several volunteers to block off the roads and things like that for today or this would not have been able to happen. We appreciate their support and of course the parents are here to support their kids and we always like to see that.”

While it wasn’t the same as a graduation ceremony, the seniors enjoyed their “drive” and the parents showed up to support their graduates.

“I loved it. Today was supposed to be graduation and we still got out here and did something for the kids and came together as a community,” Dana Grant, mother of senior football player Canyon Grant said. “Everything has changed. These kids should have been at school these last couple of weeks making other memories.”

Grant said her son plans to go to Cleveland State Community College as part of an apprentice program.

Meigs senior Danielle Pilkey said holding the parade shows the support that Meigs has for its students.

“I’m so glad the county allowed us to do it, especially with everything going on,” Pilkey said. “It just shows that Meigs County has a heart. They show the they do care about each senior.”

Pilkey, who plans to major in social work at Tennessee Wesleyan University, doesn’t want to see the coronavirus ruin whatever plans the seniors had. She urged her fellow seniors to keep forging ahead.

“To the seniors, I really hope this doesn’t change what their future holds,” Pilkey said. “I hope this doesn’t postpone anything for them. I hope they keep going and it doesn’t stop them. It scares me because I don’t want it to stop me.

“I do think I will have to take online classes my freshman year at Tennessee Wesleyan, but I just have a feeling that someone out there is just going to stop and say it ruined it and I don’t want that,” she continued.

The coronavirus has made a worldwide impact with 12 deaths in McMinn County, 290 in Tennessee and over 80,000 in the United States. Meigs had 22 confirmed positive cases, but no deaths, as of Saturday.

Pilkey has a unique insight into the coronavirus.

“My mom is a healthcare worker and what she has been through is absolutely terrifying,” Pilkey said. “We take care of my grandmother at home and we have to take a bunch of extra precautions. So growing up with it (the precautions against the virus), it’s scary. But I do know that there are some things that are working and some things that aren’t. So I’m really glad that we have figured out what works and what doesn’t.”

Class of 2020 Valedictorian John Melhorn also commended Meigs County for putting on the parade. While a formal graduation ceremony would have been nice, he said having community support is important.

“I think it’s making the best out of the situation,” Melhorn said. “It’s important to keep focused on the good things and, even though it might be a little different, all the things that matter are the same and it’s important to appreciate that.”

Melhorn plans to attend the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) and major in physics, with the goal of being hired as a research scientist.

Melhorn had a final message for those who will be coming back to high school.

“Enjoy your high school experience and try to appreciate every day because you really don’t know what kinds of turns things can take, just like (the coronavirus pandemic),” Melhorn said. “It’s important to be be grateful for the time that you have.”

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