Corona del Mar High graduates celebrate in drive-by fashion
Tempered expectations came with the territory, particularly for the class of 2020, after the coronavirus pandemic began to wreak havoc on the high school experience.
Campuses closed due to the pandemic, sending students home away from their classmates, friends, and teammates.
In the three months that have passed since that new normal, students grasped on to whatever they could find to stay connected — a Zoom call or a FaceTime session.
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s decision to hold virtual graduations was an unpopular one, and so a team of parents went to work to put together a memorable graduation event for the seniors at Corona del Mar High School.
A drive-by celebration around Fashion Island took place on Saturday morning, with more than 200 seniors receiving an outpouring of support from the community.
“I just wanted it to be a really positive event,” said Kim Cohen, who helped organize the event. “We have a pretty unique community. I think Newport is, as big as it is, it’s tiny. Everybody knows each other.”
Seniors rode in cars along the inner loop of Newport Center Drive.
Wally Korbler, 18, who played goalkeeper for the CdM boys’ soccer team, shared a vehicle with Cohen’s graduating twins — Zach and Sydney.
“After our graduation online on June 18, I still felt like a part of me was not completely satisfied with the way we ended high school,” Korbler said. “After seeing all the people that turned out for the event, I really felt special in a way because I was like, ‘Wow, all these people came out to see us graduate in a parade.’”
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.
Community figures turned out for the event, including Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill.
“This year has been about adaptation and celebrating creatively,” O’Neill said. “Parents and graduates enjoyed time outside in safe environments and the city was thrilled to celebrate with them.”
The Newport Beach police and fire departments also were present at the senior sendoff event. Three motor officers led the cars in their initial time around the loop.
“It really got a vibe going that I don’t think would have happened if they hadn’t made it more of an escort the first time around,” Cohen said.
Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis was asked why it was important for the police department to show its support for the senior class.
“The Newport Beach police and fire Departments serve in partnership with the community on a daily basis to provide a safe environment for those who live, work, play, and study in the city of Newport Beach,” Lewis said. “We are extremely proud of our city’s graduates! We congratulate them on this very important achievement in their lives and look forward to what their future will bring.”
Seven bright and good-natured boys from Corona del Mar High School, many wearing the glittering state championship rings they earned last fall as members of the Sea Kings football team, cheered and called out warm thoughts about their classmates and teachers as their faces flickered across the screen Thursday evening during a streaming video presentation that substituted for their traditional graduation ceremony.
Newport Beach Fire Chief Jeff Boyles also addressed his department’s participation in the festivities and offered congratulations to the graduates.
“The Newport Beach Fire Department was honored to participate and do our part in providing a meaningful conclusion for CdM’s graduating seniors,” he said. “Our community continues to rally and support each other during these unique and challenging days. We wish all of our graduating seniors a happy and healthy future.”
Event organizers dedicated the class of 2020 celebration event to Patrick Turner, a member of the class who took his own life in January 2018. Patrick’s parents received a check for $4,500 to go towards the Patrick’s Purpose Foundation, which promotes mental wellness and inclusiveness.
The money was raised through a GoFundMe account and by Granite Escrow.
“We’re really trying to keep his memory alive, and I think nothing more would have done that than dedicating that parade to him,” Maya Paul said. “I think we are still trying to make an effort to celebrate him and just keep his memory alive, so that parade did mean a lot.”
An emotional Paul said that her grade came together after Turner’s death, rallying around his message of kindness and inclusiveness.
Paul, who turns 18 on Friday, was a member of cheer and song. She said watching the football team win the CIF State Division 1-A championship bowl game was one of her favorite high school memories.
The Sea Kings won that game 35-27 over San Mateo Serra. Mason Gecowets, 18, a linebacker on that team, said he rode in the back of a truck with lawn chairs with his friend, Luke Sullivan, on Saturday.
“We just wore our caps and gowns, and it was a really good time, seeing all the parents and friends cheering us on as we drove by,” said Gecowets, who plans to study civil engineering at Ohio State.
Paige Wood, 18, who played girls’ lacrosse at CdM, rode in a vehicle with Chynna Linkon and Rachel Haft. She said the atmosphere of the drive-by sendoff was “super fun.”
“Everyone’s cars were decorated with either their colleges or CdM décor,” Wood said. “Then all the parents and staff and just community on the sidewalk had a lot of decorations and fun signs, and everyone was cheering, whether you knew the person or not.”
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