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Newport-Mesa seniors celebrate graduation with coastline march

Newport-Mesa Unified School District seniors walk along the coast on Friday.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District seniors walk along the coast as they make their way from Newport Elementary School to Balboa Pier in Newport Beach on Friday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

When the Newport-Mesa Unified School District made the decision to forego in-person graduations due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was widely unpopular among the senior class.

Newport Harbor High School graduating senior Summer Nedelman, 18, made up her mind that she was going to do something about it. She organized a march of Newport-Mesa school district graduates through social media, although leading up to the day, she had no idea how it would be received.

“It’s so amazing,” Nedelman said. “This turned out to be way more than I expected. When I started posting on my social media, on my Instagram, I wasn’t getting very much response, and I thought it was just going to be me and my friends, but I got down here, and people just kept showing up.”

Nedelman said she is on the wait list to get into Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she is interested in studying biomedical engineering. She carried a 4.3 grade-point average in high school, her mother, Renee, said.

Asked for a word of advice for her fellow seniors, Nedelman said that they should follow their dreams.

For many in attendance, the processional march from Newport Elementary School to the Balboa Pier along the coastline was a dream come true.

Sweet Lou Mader, 18, of Newport Harbor said that the event was a “10 out of 10” in her book. She plans to double major in art history and environmental science while attending Chapman University, where she also hopes to continue swimming competitively.

Christy Brigandi cheers and waves a photo of her son Johnny, a Newport Harbor senior, as he joins a graduation walk.
Christy Brigandi, second from left, cheers and waves a photo of her son Johnny’s face, a Newport Harbor senior, as Newport-Mesa Unified School District seniors walk along the coast on Friday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Mader’s mother, Kathy, was one of the parents lined up across the pier as the graduates completed their journey along the coast by passing underneath it.

While graduation itself is a day that parents often look forward to, Kathy Mader said, “I wanted her to be happy, and you just heard her. It was a 10 of 10, so I couldn’t be happier than that.”

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.

Mader’s group of friends were among the last to remain on the beach, where they ran fully dressed into the ocean. Newport Harbor’s Megan Baldwin, 18, was a member of the group.

“We’ll talk about this forever,” said Baldwin, bound for Baylor University with an eye on studying business. “We’ll tell our kids. It will be so much fun.”

Newport Harbor’s online graduation ceremony was scheduled for Friday night at 6. Ethan Federman, 18, rode a skateboard to the impromptu graduation celebration and said he felt a definite connection with his fellow seniors. He described the event as a walk of unity as the class of 2020 moved on to its next adventure.

Federman said he plans on majoring in business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is interested in starting a business involving Esports, a form of sport competition focused on video games.

A group of Costa Mesa and Estancia High School seniors participate in a walk from Newport Elementary School to Balboa Pier.
A small group of Costa Mesa and Estancia High School seniors participate in a walk from Newport Elementary School to Balboa Pier for Newport-Mesa Unified School District seniors in Newport Beach on Friday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa and Estancia graduates were also seen at the event.

John Paul Bottazzi, 17, a distance runner who led the Costa Mesa boys’ cross-country team, likened the vibe of the event to his junior prom because of the positive energy.

“This would probably be one of my favorite high school experiences too,” he said. “I didn’t think I was ever going to get to throw my cap up in the air, and that was pretty important to me.”

Jonathan Holguin, 18, fondly recalled his football career when thinking of his high school experience. He played left guard and middle linebacker for the Eagles, and the team’s wins over Battle for the Bell rival Costa Mesa were his favorite.

Holguin stood with Michael Finicum and Noah Will on the beach as the march came to its conclusion. If high school had to come to an end, Holguin was happy with the final week.

The parade began at Newport Harbor High School, taking a path that led the procession through Newport Beach to Costa Mesa, where it ended at Estancia High School.

“It was more like a grad week instead of just that one day,” said Holguin, who also mentioned a car parade for graduates that happened earlier in the week. “It still would have been nice walking across that stage, knowing that I completed it, but I don’t mind this, either.

“This is really cool because it was a whole week of all the seniors got celebrated instead of just that one day.”

A drive-by celebration for Corona del Mar graduates is planned around the inner loop of Newport Center Drive (Fashion Island) from 8 to 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Parents take a group picture of Newport-Mesa Unified School District seniors before they participate in a graduation walk.
Parents take a group picture of Newport-Mesa Unified School District seniors before they walk from Newport Elementary School to Balboa Pier in Newport Beach on Friday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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