Senior Celebration Despite the Pandemic, Small Town Style

Photo Credit: Sheri Thompson

Even amidst a global pandemic, our small Kansas town gave the class of 2020 Seniors a night that they will never forget. Last Sunday, the community of Caney rallied together to put on a night of celebration for the kids that have had to postpone their graduation date. While the governor specifically stated that graduations are not allowed, the school board did some quick thinking and made an unforgettable event for the kids while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. This is how the Shoot the U and Cruise Down Memory Lane for the Seniors was born.

To fully understand this event, let me first explain this small town tradition. Like many small towns, the kids of Caney spent many evenings cruising around, listening to music and waving at their friends. After driving down the main street of town, actually named 4th street, they would make a U turn at the end of the street and continue back down the street where they came from. This would lead them around the city park and then back to that same route. The fun in shooting the U was always less about the drive itself but about seeing your friends, listening to music, and showing off your vehicle. This tradition has been a part of Caney for as long as most can remember.

So, it only made sense for the Seniors to be celebrated with a Shoot the U Event. The Seniors began by lining up at the grade school, where most of them started their school career. They were allowed two vehicles per child. The kids and parents did an incredible job of putting together unique vehicles. There were kids riding in the back of trucks (one in a recliner in the truck bed!), kids on trailers, in convertibles, jeeps, cars, ATV’s and so much more. Vehicles were decorated with balloons and signs, and chalk paint, etc.

While the Seniors and their families traveled down 4th Street, the streets were lined with spectators. (While practicing social distancing of course). There were aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers and neighbors snapping photos and cheering the kids on. Before shooting the U, each child was announced, as well as sports and clubs they were part of during their high school career, what scholarships they received and what their future plans are. Photos were taken, and it was broadcast via Facebook live for the people that couldn’t be there and for everyone to view later.

After this, they traveled down the road to the football stadium and then the high school to receive additional gifts. There were photos taken and goody bags given. Awards were handed out. Yard signs and photo plaques were given to each child. Photo banners hung on the highway.

Also, it didn’t stop with the school administration. The entire community did an incredible job to create an unforgettable night. The local gas station donated $5 in gas for the event for each senior. Sonic donated a free drink to each senior and Big G’s, the local burger place, donated one ice cream cone coupon per senior.

While these kids had to miss out on so many things for their last year for high school, and nothing can ever make up for that, I truly believe that this helped soften the blow. There is nothing quite like living in a small town. Especially when someone is in need. I have watched this town rally together so many times over the course of my life and I had no doubt that they would love our kids just as fiercely as always.

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