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Newport-Mesa graduates celebrate the end of high school with a parade

Costa Mesa High School graduates hang out of car windows as they pass Estancia High School.
Costa Mesa High School graduates hang out of car windows as they pass Estancia High School at the end of the Community of Newport Mesa Unified School District Senior Parade class of 2020 in Costa Mesa on Wednesday. The car parade began at Newport Harbor High and wound its way past local high schools before ending at Estancia High.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

It was quiet Wednesday morning at the intersection of Irvine Avenue and 15th Street.

Joggers crossed. People sat on the sidewalk with foldable chairs, some holding balloons and signs with pictures of faces known to their communities but not to passing strangers. Cars moved through the intersection, rumbling past the houses and condominiums that line the street that passes Newport Harbor High School.

But then came the fire truck. Then the Noble Cause Foundation’s military vehicles, Costa Mesa Police Department vehicles, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley and, finally, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s class of 2020.

Honoring this year’s graduating seniors from high schools in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Laguna Beach and other parts of Orange County.

By noon, cars had lined up one after another along 15th Street, the procession stretching so far back that they almost seemed to disappear on the horizon.

“The kids lost so much. I think the most important thing is with a virtual graduation, the only thing that you really have is just an online experience, but it’s not a very personal experience,” Karen O’Mahony, a parent of a Newport Harbor graduate, said. “Tomorrow would have been their actual graduation day.”

O’Mahony, along with Matt Eimers and about 20 other parents organized a car parade for graduating seniors that would take them through a route that began at Newport Harbor High School and would end at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa. The Newport Beach procession, O’Mahony said, would stop at Costa Mesa High School, where its participants would then “hand off” to the next fleet.

Family members congratulate Newport Harbor High grads from the side of the road during the parade.
Family members congratulate Newport Harbor High grads from the side of the road during the Community of Newport Mesa Unified School District Senior Parade class of 2020 in Newport Beach on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Eimers and O’Mahony joked that they wanted to include a large, prop diploma in the hand-off, but they ran out of time. Organization for the celebration began at the beginning of June, and notice of it spread largely by word of mouth.

“We just wanted to do something more,” O’Mahony said.

O’Mahony said she and others tried to appeal to the school district for a drive-through ceremony similar to those held by other local districts. District officials did not change its plans but said high schools plan to celebrate with an informal, in-person event later this summer if state and local regulations allow for it.

Both parents said that along with other parents, they wanted to celebrate closer to students actual graduations, adding that not all of them would be able to attend a celebration later in the year if they needed to move out of state for college.

“I decided that I’d seen a lot of car parades on Facebook and just wanted to at least try to do something similar. So, I reached out to a couple of parents who said they wanted to help, and here we are today,” O’Mahony said.

“The vision of the parade was to honor the [Newport Harbor] seniors. Eventually, we were like, ‘Why don’t we just honor all the seniors from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District?’” Eimers said.

Estancia High School grads waved at crowds waiting for them toward the end of the parade.
Estancia High School grads wave at crowds waiting for them toward the end of the Community of Newport Mesa Unified School District Senior Parade class of 2020 in Costa Mesa on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Foley said she felt it was important to come out and celebrate because of what she felt graduates sacrificed in order to help protect public health.

“I’m thrilled to be here, thrilled to be able to participate so that they can have some semblance of the celebration that is graduation, and it’s amazing how our community has come together,” Foley said. “Our public safety, our parents, our community members — to try and do something special for these kids. They won’t forget this. It may be more memorable than if they were to just go to graduation.”

Rae Galarion came with her two friends, Ryan MacDonald and Malialani Tufuga, who graduated from Costa Mesa High School with her on Tuesday.

“I definitely feel like the whole experience was just kind of taken away from us, but I really appreciate how all the schools came together and came up with a solution. Especially like this parade, and they did a YouTube thing for our virtual graduation, I think it’s very unique,” Galarion said. “But at the same time, it would have been nice if it had been in-person to see everyone else.”

“I feel like we missed out on a regular graduation, but I’m glad they still did something, and it’s kind of unique the way they did it. We’re the only ones to have a graduation from our couch,” MacDonald said.

Estancia High School grads pose in front of a luxury vehicle at the end of the senior parade.
Estancia High School grads pose in front of a luxury vehicle at the end of the Community of Newport Mesa Unified School District Senior Parade class of 2020 in Costa Mesa on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

“I think, even though we graduated from our couch, they still made our ceremony really special ... We were able to have personal messages from teachers and staff that we probably wouldn’t have had in a traditional ceremony,” Malialani said.

Neve Conolly, Mem Bishop and Chris Carr rode in the parade together with Mem at the wheel and her dog, Bella, in the back.

Mem, who went to Back Bay/Monte Vista High School with Carr, said she was disappointed in her graduation and thought it could have been better. But Neve Conolly, who goes to Fusion Academy in Huntington Beach, said she would have liked to have an in-person graduation but realized there were worse things than missing a traditional ceremony.

Newport Harbor seniors Alex Sun and Dylan Miller rode together in the parade.

“I was told [graduation] was this big thing, and I haven’t gotten to really experience much of that so far, but this is the start of it. I’m glad we’re out here doing this, and it gives me something to celebrate my years at high school with,” Miller said.

A Newport Harbor High School grad gives the peace sign during the district's parade.
A Newport Harbor High School grad gives the peace sign during the Community of Newport Mesa Unified School District Senior Parade class of 2020 in Costa Mesa on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

“I have two sisters that graduated, so I’ve been to the graduations. They were really big. My sisters were really happy afterwards just graduating in general, and I didn’t think much of it, but after they took it away from us, I guess I didn’t know what I was missing,” Sun said. “I’m just happy to be graduating and moving on.”

Both said they felt the parade was “pretty awesome” and were thankful for the efforts of parents, adding that each of their respective neighborhoods have thrown graduation parties for them, and they felt supported by their communities.

“They were born after 9/11 happened,” Eimers said. “Then, the coronavirus. Who knows what’s going to happen in four years when they graduate from college? This generation has dealt with a lot of tragedy, but look how great they’re doing.”

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