Mar. 8—MONTVILLE — High school seniors were showered with affection from family, teachers and community members Sunday during a parade.
The high school's Project Grad Committee, which organizes the secret Project Grad trip for seniors at the end of the year, put the event together as a way to recognize the students 100 days from graduation.
Committee Chairperson Ashley Turney said members started talking recently about the parade because they heard their kids saying they don't have a lot to celebrate, and they haven't been recognized, and it's been a tough year for them.
"It's safe, and it's a good excuse to celebrate the kids," Turney said of the parade. "We got all the schools in Montville on board, we invited all the teachers from the elementary school and middle school, Ben & Jerry's has donated ice cream, and we've put together goodie bags for all the seniors."
More than 200 people, including the seniors, gathered at Montville High School. Spectators lined the road behind the school that goes past the faculty parking lot and the sports fields. Montville High School's electronic sign welcomed the seniors with congratulatory messages. All of the cars involved in the parade, the majority of which were driven by shouting, smiling seniors, were decked out with decorations, including black and orange balloons and streamers. Radio station Jammin' 107.7 was in attendance, blasting music as the kids rolled slowly by. And the roll was exceedingly slow: students stopped frequently along the route to talk to teachers, family members and friends. Police and fire vehicles joined in the chorus of cheers and noise with honks of their own as students went by.
Seniors Felicia Bower and Annabelle Leifheit said they took about an hour to decorate the car they drove, replete with their lacrosse numbers and names drawn on the window. Both were excited about the event.
"This is really important to me because I don't even know if I'll get a graduation, so experiencing stuff with my friends is a big deal," Bower said. "This makes me feel like I'm graduating! It's a celebration for us."
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Leifheit said the event made a very weird year a little less weird.
"For me, it normalizes the year a bit more," Leifheit said. "We didn't know what we were getting and not getting, we still sort of don't, but this at least makes things feel more normal."
"I really appreciate that they put this together because it really does mean a lot to us," Bower continued. "It might not be a big deal to some people, but this is huge for us. We lost so much of our junior year, and our senior year's been iffy, so this is really a lot to us."
Murphy Elementary School nurse Marcia Wilcox and principal Amy Espinoza were in attendance. They helped set up a Murphy banner, just as many relatives and friends had signs made congratulating their seniors.
"I'm here to root on the Class of 2021 for their graduation," Wilcox said. "I know it's been hard on a lot of them due to the COVID virus, and I want nothing but the best for them."
Espinoza commented on how strange it is to see the children she knew grow into young adults.
"We look at them now, and they're these giant young ladies and men; it's hard to believe they were little guys at one time, but it happens! And it's exciting for them," she said. "It's nice to be here and to just let them know that we're still thinking of them. They'll always be Murphy kids."
Parent Jackie Meislitzer came to the parade to see her son, who is graduating this year. She thanked Project Grad as well as the community for coming out.
"I think this is a great way to get the kids together. Obviously with COVID it's a bit harder to do larger events," she said. "We're happy to celebrate all that they've accomplished before moving to the next chapter of their lives."
Turney noted that nothing can really make up for how the pandemic affected students' high school experience. But that shouldn't stop groups like Project Grad from trying.
"We really feel for these kids, and they're doing the best they can," she said. "A lot of them are so positive and strong in so many ways. They're still finding ways to be together. They spend a lot of time on their screens, but that's how they interact right now. They're playing video games together while FaceTiming, and they're in their classes all day online. This was was something we thought would be just pure fun for them."