ALTOONA, Pa (WTAJ)–The annual senior car giveaway tradition for the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center returned Monday afternoon in person since the pandemic hit.

This tradition has been going on since 1995. Each year, students within the WISE program gather in an assembly to receive special prizes. The program highlights students’ academic achievements within specific areas.

“The Wise program awards students work ethic, improvement, community service, and excellence,” Work-based learning assistant Tami Moseh said. Each marking period, students have a chance to get tickets, and those tickets are put into a drawing at the end of the school year.”

Students begin collecting tickets from the time they start at GACTC leading up to their senior year when they have the chance to win a car. Moseh said the school gets a wrecked car donated from a local salvage yard. Then, students in the Automotive/Diesel Technology and Collision Repair shops fix it up. This year’s car was a 2014 Kia Soul.

Two seniors are then selected in a drawing to win a car. One student is from the AM periods, and the other is from the PM periods.

“We have two winners, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I have two keys, one starts the car, and the other doesn’t,” Moseh said.

Seniors Arrhen Gathagan and Derek Long were the two finalists for the vehicle. Gathagan was the AM winner. He said that he had butterflies in his stomach for most of the morning.

“It came down to me, and his name is Xavier,” Gathagan said. “He was standing right next to me. We looked at each other in disbelief. He was told to sit down, and I stood there shocked. I thought it was some kind of cruel joke, to be honest.”

Long was the PM winner. He already was having a lucky week since he purchased a new truck and won the Stuckey Senior of the Year award.

“It’s insane to be picked out of this many kids. My luck made it, went that far, and it’s just cool. Definitely a great senior year,” Long said.

The two selected the keys and bet their luck to see if the car would start. Gathagan went first, and his key ended up being the lucky winner. He was in complete shock when he heard the car start. He said there were so many emotions that went through his mind.

“I heard the sound, my brain immediately went to that’s fake, that didn’t happen. I’m so happy,” Gathagan said. “That was disbelief. That was shock. Four hundred seventeen emotions all at once. It was great.”

Following the ceremony, Gathagan’s parents came to school. His mother burst into tears when she heard the engine start.

Long did not go home empty-handed. He won a flat-screen television and a new chair. He said that he might use it in the entertainment room of his home. But he cannot complain about what he’s received during his final week of senior year.

“I got the Stuckey award, and I was like, well, I must be having a lot of luck right now but fell a little short,” Long said. “I can’t complain; very surprised I made it out of everyone else.”

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After graduation, Gathagan plans to enter the workforce full-time in computer programming. Long plans to stay in his co-op with Stuckey Automotives.