Joey Hadley

Joey Hadley is a senior graduating from Watauga High School.

When Gov. Roy Cooper announced on April 24 that North Carolina public schools would not be returning for in-person instruction this school year, many turned their thoughts to the senior Class of 2020 and their unconventional ending to high school.

Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott then stated that the school system plans to host a drive-in or drive-through style event to commemorate the seniors’ graduation on Saturday, May 30. Elliott said that the celebration “will look different from a traditional graduation ceremony” due to the current restrictions on mass gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within the week of the announcement, several community members stepped up to create ways to recognize seniors. Diane Buzzard — a Meat Camp resident — said she was watching “Good Morning America” and saw a group in South Carolina that started an “adopt a senior” initiative, in which community members adopt a senior by sending them cards or gifts to congratulate them on completing high school.

While Buzzard doesn’t currently have a senior at Watauga High School, she has had two children graduate from the school and one who is currently a sophomore. She decided to create the Adopt a Senior 2020 — Watauga High School Facebook page, as she saw it as a great opportunity for the community to get involved “especially if you’re not able to be on the front lines or an essential worker.”

“I would be devastated if it was my (child) that was not going to get to graduate this year,” Buzzard said. “I can’t be a nurse or a doctor, so I wanted to do something in some way to help the situation.”

With some help from her nephew, Buzzard created the Facebook page on April 26. A parent or friend of a senior can post the photo of one of the members of the Class of 2020 with a short description of the student. One community member is allowed to “adopt” the student, to ensure each student is adopted, Buzzard said.

Buzzard said she will post a photo of a student and within seconds the senior gets “adopted.” By mid-day on April 30, 175 seniors had already been adopted and the Facebook group was up to 527 members.

Community members who adopt a senior agree to send the student some token to show support, such as mailing a card with a gift card inside or agreeing to meet up with the parents to safely hand over a goodie bag prepared by the adopter.

Sometimes the adopter may know the senior, and sometimes they are a community member who has never met the student. Buzzard said she adopted three seniors herself who she had never met.

“If somebody could make them happy and put a smile on their face, then it’s awesome,” Buzzard said.

Brandy Hadley nominated her son — Joey Hadley — as a senior to be adopted on the Facebook page. Joey Hadley said the person who adopted him was someone he has never met.

Hadley said he was quite surprised how much community was there to support the seniors. He added that he had moved around quite a bit during his time in school — having spent some time in three of the eight WCS K-8 schools. Additionally, he lived in bigger cities such as Knoxville, Tenn., and San Bernardino, Calif. He spent three years of his high school career at WHS.

His amazement about the senior adoption page and that someone he doesn’t know would want to send him support was because “something like that would never happen in a big city.”

“It was my first time seeing how connected and how small this town is, and how much people care about each other,” Hadley said. “It feels very supportive. It feels like love even though I’ve never met or talked to them.”

Hadley plans to attend East Tennessee State University to pursue a business degree with a focus in finance. He said he was sad to not have the traditional high school graduation ceremony he had dreamed of and that he’s been unable to say goodbye to his teachers. However, he said he has enjoyed the extra time at home to spend with family before heading to college.

Buzzard hopes that each of the students in the Class of 2020 — about 340 seniors — gets adopted from the page. She said she’s working on a plan to help students who cannot be named on the page and who will be anonymous. To adopt a senior, visit

Additionally, Wes Calbreath — a Watauga High School counselor — has organized a card drive for seniors in which community members can drop off cards at WHS to be mailed. He is asking that the cards not be addressed to a specific student so they can be given to anyone. Each student will receive the same number of cards regardless of extracurricular participation, socioeconomic status, grade point average or other identifiers.

Cards are requested to be dropped off at WHS in an envelope with no writing on it and with a stamp to be mailed. He said community members are welcome to contribute one or several cards as any will be helpful. The deadline for the cards is May 29.

Recognizing that spring sports were canceled due to the virus, the Watauga High School Booster Club funded banners to be hung up from downtown Boone light posts to recognize spring senior athletes. The club had help from the town of Boone Public Works Department to hang the banners.

Downtown Development Coordinator Lane Moody said she was grateful for the collaboration between the Booster Club and town staff for giving downtown patrons a reason to smile.

“This is such a wonderful testament that even in difficult times our community is still thoughtful, creative and supportive of one another,” Moody said. “It certainly adds a little flare to downtown that we can all use right now.”

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