Niles Cedar Lane, WAY Program celebrate with mini parade

NILES — Students and educators have felt the sting of traditional graduation traditions being altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students who sought alternative routes for their education, for numerous reasons, will also be missing out on the ceremonies they looked forward to as they achieved their requirements through the year.

On Wednesday, students graduating from Niles Cedar Lane and through the WAY Program were celebrated with a parade and yard signs to recognize their achievements.

Principal John Fonash, and multiple teachers and administrators, gathered at Niles Cedar Lane High School to begin a parade to celebrate its graduating class of 2020. With 22 seniors graduating from Niles Cedar Lane and 15 through the WAY Program, the teachers and administrators gathered around noon at the school’s parking lot and set off on a parade-style journey to each of the students’ homes.

The entourage included two school buses.

“We would pull up to a home. The bus had some classical music playing loudly. We pulled up and were honking our [car] horns,” Fonash said.

Administrators planted a personalized yard sign to the students’ home with their name on it, complete with a balloon.

“Most of them were home, and they came out,” Fonash said. “We applauded them. We congratulated them. The neighbors came out and were clapping for them. It was a nice experience.”

The experience was a celebration that Fonash hoped would fill some of the missed celebratory activities that seniors usually experience in their last months at the school.

Fonash spoke with Niles Cedar Lane graduating senior Dustin Marsiglio after the parade. Fonash said that Marsiglio had felt that the shutdowns from COVID-19 took away many of the traditi

ons he had looked forward to.

“There was a real emptiness in his final semester,” Fonash said of Marsiglio’s comments. “He said that it was so nice when the bus pulled up. All the people were out there and they were clapping for him, congratulating him, honking horns and everything to putting the sign and the balloon. He said it made him feel like he got all of that back, everything that he was missing. It really made a difference for him.”

Fonash remembered when Marsiglio first began attending Niles Cedar Lane and the challenges he had to overcome. Now, Marsiglio will be delivering a speech for the school’s graduation and finished school with two college courses from Southwestern Michigan College completed.

Making in-person contact, even from a distance, made an impact for the educators in the parade as well.

Fonash said that the staff has a group text where they discussed Wednesday’s activities. One of the counselors expressed that she had parked her car and was tearing up at the comments from the students after the parade. Another educator said how much they mad missed the family that Cedar Lane is.

“I think it’s something we all needed,” Fonash said. “I think it showed us that we’ve been missing what we do best during this time, and that is to be there for the kids and to help through the day to day living, experiencing, and growing, and becoming better students. Providing them structure, discipline, and motivation and support. It’s what they need and what we can provide for them.”