Niles Cedar Lane, WAY, adult ed graduates honored in drive-thru ceremony

NILES — Sir Edward Elgar’s familiar “Pomp and Circumstance” played over speakers beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Niles Cedar Lane. Viking blue carpets were placed on the sidewalk before a table with diplomas and awards that were to be given to students. Niles Community School administrators, including Superintendent Dr. Dan Applegate, Board President Dana Daniels and Niles Cedar Lane Principal John Fonash lined up behind the official table.

This was the scene as 20 graduates from Niles Cedar Lane, Niles WAY and Niles Adult Education attended their outdoor, drive-thru graduation ceremony. With only 20 graduates, the programs were able to host the event at their own school in the parking lot.

A single line of parked cars, some decorated with balloons, awaited being given the go-ahead to drive to the front of the school where a graduate would emerge and be greeted by their teachers and administrators with cheers to collect their diploma.

“I think it came together really well,” Fonash said after the event. “I was so happy that all of our graduates could make it.”

The school had pre-recorded the administrators’ speeches and posted the video on the school’s Facebook page earlier in the day.

In the video, class speaker Dustin Marsiglio spoke about his own challenges, and the class’ as well.

“I’d like to say ‘congrats’ to the Cedar Lane, adult ed and WAY program classes of 2020. We adapted. We followed through, and we overcame,” Marsiglio said.

He went on to speak about the challenges he faced before coming to the school.

“I previously attended multiple different schools before experiencing Cedar Lane, and I was never successful. I came to the conclusion that maybe I would never be successful,” he said.

Now, Marsiglio graduates with college credits already achieved as he graduates high school.

“I, along with other seniors, have shown that nothing can stop us. We didn’t only graduate, but we graduated with all of the odds stacked against us.”

He thanked the group of people that helped push him “towards greatness.”

Another prominent presence in the graduation video is Angelecque Thornton, social studies teacher and facilitator for Reaching for the Reins equine service learning program at Cedar Lane.

“Facilitating students and horses with a goal to serve others is a rewarding way for me to selfishly see how worthy the students of Cedar Lane are. How I want them to know their worth as well,” Thornton said. “Taking a group of students who do not regularly connect and seeing them become a supportive and encouraging unit amazes me each and every year.”

As the students progressed through the ceremony, many left to celebrate with family and friends immediately after receiving diplomas. Towards the end, some parked on the other side to make sure everyone received cheers from classmates.

“It’s a little historical,” Fonash said. “It was our first ever drive-thru graduation for Niles Community Schools. One way or another, we were going to honor these kids because they worked so hard, for so long, to overcome so many obstacles. We couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Fonash and the administrators credited graduate Dalton Morgan with the idea for the drive-thru ceremony.

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