PHOTO STORY: Niles non-traditional programs graduate students in outdoor ceremony

Published 2:21 pm Tuesday, May 25, 2021

NILES – Sunny weather and a full parking lot helped make Niles Community Schools’ non-traditional education graduation one to remember. With a drive-in style ceremony, family and friends got to watch graduates walk in their navy-blue caps and gowns.

Monday, 47 graduates from Niles adult education, Niles Cedar Lane, WAY Niles and Niles virtual school were able to be recognized for their hard work and call themselves high school graduates.

“It’s amazing these kids have been through so much, so much adversity, and they showed that if you are really resilient and can persevere that you can accomplish this,” said Niles Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Daniel Applegate. “They are great role models for us in terms of resiliency.”

The graduation took place after a non-traditional year and in a non-traditional commencement ceremony. Staff and students joined together to help plan the idea of the drive-in style graduation.

Family and friends could sit in their cars or in lawn chairs and cheer on the fellow graduates.

Some guests of the graduation sat on top of their vehicles to get a better view of the graduates and the television screen showing pictures during the ceremony.

In his speech, Applegate said the graduates have had to overcome more than a pandemic. Many have also battled struggles in their day-to-day lives.

“Not only did COVID tamper everybody, there are so many other variables in the lives of our students in alternative education both positive and negative that they work through,” Applegate said.

Instead of having a student speaker, the graduates where given the opportunity to thank or honor those who have helped them get to this point in their lives.

“I want to honor my mother for being the best mother she could be for my siblings and I,” said Niles Cedar Lane graduate Centerial Allen. “I appreciate every little thing you do and want to say ‘thanks’ for always being by my side no matter what.”

As students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas and get their pictures taken, emotions started to pour out of guest in the crowd. Cheers, claps and car honks where used to congratulate the class of 2021.

Staff and teachers wanted the students to remember and look back on all the hard work and dedication they put into graduating.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” said Mary Landgraff, Niles adult education teacher. “They have pushed through everything to get here, and the kids worked very hard this year even with the pandemic.”

After turning their tassels, graduates embraced each other as members of the class of 2021. Capping off the night, graduates ran into the arms of loved ones and teachers as they made sure to thank those for helping them reach their goal of graduating.