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Columbus grads will drive to finish-line for their diplomas

Alumnus makes Homestead Miami Speedway available for class of 2020 ceremony

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MIAMI | After a year with many firsts, Christopher Columbus High School’s Class of 2020 will make history one last time by celebrating their graduation at Homestead Miami Speedway on Saturday, June 20. The ceremony start time is 9:30 a.m. with graduates arriving as of 8:30 a.m.

Columbus is the first school to hold a graduation ceremony at the renowned South Florida racetrack, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. 

"Due to the pandemic, seniors across the country have missed out on so many academic, athletic, and social events. We wanted a memorable and meaningful way to commemorate the Class of 2020," said Thomas Kruczek, president of Columbus High.

The school hosted a virtual graduation May 23, 2020 which was livestreamed on its YouTube channel. At the time, Kruczek said, “I look forward to handing each of you your hard-earned diploma. We will find a way to make it happen in the near future.”

The Homestead Speedway was chosen because it offers graduates and their families the opportunity to come together in person while adhering to the CDC guidelines (wearing masks) and practicing social distancing. Each graduate and his family will be in one vehicle during the ceremony.

The program will include the traditional Pomp and Circumstance, an invocation from the salutatorian, speeches from the valedictorian, Helmsman and administrators, as well as video presentations and a tribute to first responders. 

The highlight will be when each of the 390 graduates, sporting C-20 car flags (representing Columbus '20), are escorted by a pace car to the track's checkered finish-line for the diploma presentation by the school's president and principal. Then each graduate will take a "victory lap" around the track, marking the completion of his time at Columbus and the beginning of his new journey.

The entire ceremony will be recorded and live-fed to the speedway's digital boards by the school's student-run and Emmy award winning news program, CCNN Live. In addition, the ceremony will be simulcast via radio inside the facility and livestreamed on the school's social media channels.

Al Garcia, a Columbus 1981 graduate who serves as president of the speedway, said he wanted to help the school do something extraordinary for this special class and offered the speedway.  

"I’m honored to be able to help my Columbus brothers by hosting their graduation at our legendary track," said Garcia. "The Homestead Miami Speedway will serve as an unforgettable and safe venue for everyone attending, providing ample space for the cars and an exceptional sound and visual experience." 

The track has a special history for the South Florida community as it opened in 1995 to promote economic recovery following the devastation of Hurricane Andrew.

"We thank Al and his wonderful team at HMS for helping us bring this amazing and once in a life-time opportunity to our senior class," said Kruczek.

The Columbus Class of 2020 will go down in school history as one of the most accomplished and resilient. With more than $20 million earned in college scholarships and 60,600 in service hours, the class has 37 National Merit Scholar Awardees and 14 Silver Knight Award nominees.

The 2019/2020 football team, made up of mostly members of the class of 2020, captured the school's first football state championship. Several other class members were on the track team that won back-to-back state titles. The robotics team also won a first-ever state championship after competing among 57 of the state's best teams. The CCNN Live broadcast journalism program won a record 10 National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Student Production Awards while the debate program ranked in the top 10 in the state. Columbus Explorers also were the champions at the Miami-Dade Geography Bee for a second year in a row. 

While celebrating many victories, the class of 2020 also encountered several obstacles and tragedies. As sophomores, they experienced the sorrow and fear that resulted from the horrific Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. They suffered the tragic loss of a classmate, Ari Arteaga, who died just before junior year in a car accident. And to culminate their high school years, they faced a global pandemic that forced them into virtual learning and led to the cancelation of their much-anticipated end-of-year social activities. 

"This has been such a challenging year for our Class of 2020 and through it all, the class remained determined, unified, and persisted to achieve greatness," said Columbus’ principal, David Pugh.   

"This will be an extraordinary graduation for an extraordinary class," he added.

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