COLUMBUS, Ind. (WTHR) — High school seniors are getting shortchanged by the coronavirus pandemic. There are no proms, no big graduation ceremonies, no emotional goodbyes and firm handshakes from the people who helped seniors succeed.
But school bus drivers in Columbus are doing something really different to congratulate graduates and give them a memorable send-off.
The school year abruptly ended in painful silence. The bus drivers who chauffeured graduating seniors for much of their lives didn't get to wish them good luck or even say goodbye.
With 31 years behind the wheel, Lisa Wheeler decided it wasn’t right.
“We wanted them to know that just because we are bus drivers, that doesn’t mean that we don’t think about them every single day that we don’t have them,” Wheeler said. “It makes me cry.”
Wheeler ran an idea past co-worker Julie Blaich.
“It was a go, go, go,” Blaich said with a smile. “Let’s do it.”
Bartholomew Consolidated School officials agreed.
”I was there for your bus ride,” a seasoned driver said in a video showing buses rolling down memory lane.
Another driver chimes in, “We made sure you were safe.”
The bus drivers share encouraging words and well-wishes to the seniors as they finish one chapter of their lives.
“Some of them do say I’m their bus mom,” Heather Coryea told 13News. “And we get hugs. We can’t refuse a hug when they come through and reach for you.”
Sometimes happy, sometimes crying and hurting.
“We love them, we respect them and we wish them the best of luck," Coryea said. "It's heartbreaking actually. It is upsetting not to see their faces every day."
“It’s just as upsetting for students,” said Blaich, a bus driver and mom to two graduates. “I know the hurt the seniors are having because of having twins. They missed out on a lot.”
“We got you this far, the next trip is yours,” said a bus driver in the video.
As it turns out, the drivers in the video were maneuvering towards a destination: A picture from a hovering drone reveals the buses parked and perfectly lined up, forming a supersized “2020.”
“Congratulations to the class of 2020” a driver announces.
It’s not the send-off graduates at Bartholomew Consolidated School expected, but it is one to be remembered.