The Sylva Herald, by Kelly Morgan 

In past years, Smoky Mountain High School seniors have returned to their elementary school hallways to say goodbye to their former teachers and receive congratulations from them.

Since schools are closed due to COVID-19, the traditional parades are impossible. Instead, seniors can participate in an outdoor parade at the high school at 6 p.m. today (Thursday).

SMHS Principal Evelyn Graning said seniors start the parade at the road behind E Building, and then wind around the high school until they finish at the stoplight in front of the high school’s main entrance.

Students are encouraged to drive any vehicle they like, be it a car, truck or tractor, and their families may ride with them. They also have the option to decorate their vehicles.

“As long as they’re being creative and decorating their vehicles in a way that expresses who they are,” Graning said. “As long as they’re being positive and kind, I’m all for this expression of creativity.”

Spectators may watch the parade from within their cars. They should park either in the bus lot, the field beside the new gym or the middle section of the student parking lot.

“We’re really cognizant of making sure this is a fun event for everyone while also not putting anyone at risk,” Graning said. “It is imperative the spectators remain in their vehicles for the duration of the parade.”

SMHS faculty are the only people allowed out of their cars during the event. They will be stationed around the high school to direct traffic and will follow social distancing guidelines. The local radio station WRGC is donating two hours of airtime to the parade. Jackson County Public Schools teachers recorded messages congratulating this year’s seniors and sent the recordings to the station.

“We’re a local community radio and we do community service,” station owner Roy Burnette said. “We’ll be doing a two-hour segment with music and messages. Everyone can tune in and listen.”

WRGC will play the recordings from 6-8 p.m. while the seniors drive through the parade.

“We tried to think outside the box to help our seniors to experience the feel of face-to-face interactions as much as possible,” Graning said. “This is one fun event that we can do to help seniors feel as loved as they are.”

“I’m excited about the parade because I get to see my teachers,” SMHS senior Karis Borchelt said. “I miss them so much.”

She plans to use window markers to decorate her car.

“This is my last time to drive up to the school as a Senior Mustang,” Dawson Karup said. “I will look back on this year one day as the year of ‘what should have been.’”

He plans to drive his truck, which he said is a symbol of who he is, but he is unsure how he will decorate it.

This parade is one of many things people have done to honor this year’s high school seniors. The seniors have also been recognized in social media posts, signs along roadways, billboards and the Adopt-a-Senior programs.