The parades of graduates, born during the pandemic, become a tradition

PORT ORCHARD — The rain couldn’t stop the joyful cheers of family and friends congratulating the South Kitsap 2022 graduates as they walked down Bay Street in a parade on Friday night.

Parents, grandparents, siblings and community members lined the road decorated with Southern Kitsap flags on both sides, some holding umbrellas and others huddled under awnings. The parade took place on the eve of South Kitsap’s official launch ceremony, which took place Saturday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome.

Seniors Alexis Meister and Selena McCoy decorated their car in the high school parking lot ahead of the parade on Friday. Meister said she thought it was good the tradition started in 2020 as a way to honor seniors through the COVID-19 pandemic. The two said they were excited and nervous about graduating and that they would be missing their music class at South Kitsap High School.

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Some parade goers held signs in support of their grad, and a few of the seniors threw candy from their ride down the street. A DJ set up shop at the Brick House restaurant and flooded Bay Street with music and cheers as the elderly passed by, many of whom honked their horns back.

Kaden Cole reacts to the cheering crowd on the sidewalk as he takes part in the South Kitsap Class of 2022 Senior Parade in downtown Port Orchard on Friday.

“It almost doesn’t seem real to be a senior and graduate,” said Gavin Thorsby, a senior graduate. He will miss his friends, he says. He thought the parade was a good idea to support senior graduates.

The South Kitsap High School mascot led the parade in a convertible. The students followed in all sorts of vehicles, including high-lift trucks and vintage cars. Vehicles with trailers drove slowly down the road as students waved. Some were in the back of trucks, hanging from windows or standing through the sunroof. A group of students sat in a boat pulled by a truck. The cars were decorated with students’ names and congratulatory messages, balloons, flags and signs.

Eric Worden helped organize the parade and is the parent of a senior graduate, he said. During the 2020 shutdowns, when socially distanced graduation ceremonies were held, the parade was how people got to see seniors in their graduation caps and gowns. Now the tradition continues, even with the normal launch ceremonies in full swing.

Central Kitsap Olympic High School also celebrated its seniors with a mini drive-in parade in the school parking lot on Wednesday, and Central Kitsap High School held one earlier this month.

A confetti cannon is set off by a truckload of members of the South Kitsap Class of 2022 as they take part in the senior parade through downtown Port Orchard on Friday.

Students and their families, teachers and staff attended the event at Olympic, said Dawn Thompson, a mother of a senior involved with the PTSA. A school board member also attended the parade.

“In 2020 we weren’t able to do an official graduation, so we started a drive-through graduation, and it was such a hit that we chose to keep it although they were able to set up a more traditional graduation last year and this year,” Thompson said. “It provided an opportunity for a very personal experience between staff and students.

About 150 families took part in the voluntary parade, with cars decorated with banners and signs. Similar to the South Kitsap Parade, students sat in truck beds or hung from sunroofs or convertibles.

When Olympic High School started the tradition, this is how students graduated, socially distanced from each other using the length of a boat oar. Now the parade remains a way to celebrate with the community, Thompson said. Last year, the event was linked to the senior awards night.

“This year we’ve worked really hard to try to make it as big as it was in 2020,” Thompson said.

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