The cars that lined East 13th Street were decorated with posters congratulating the outgoing Heights High School class of 2020. The sidewalk was lined with the seniors’ family and friends who were standing or waiting in chairs to cheer on the graduates as they paraded by in their vehicles.
Heights’ parade, organized by the school, the PTO and the seniors’ parents, took place last Friday, May 29 and was put together to recognize the graduates who didn’t get to walk across a stage in their caps and gowns. Houston ISD replaced traditional commencement ceremonies with virtual ones because of safety concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a good way for the students to come together in a safe way,” said Ryan Petit, whose youngest daughter graduated from the school.
The parade began in front of the high school’s campus and weaved west on 13th Street before turning south on Arlington Street, west on East 12th Street, north on Harvard Street and east on East 14th Street before ending near the school’s practice football field.
“The energy inside that parking lot was electrifying. I can say without a doubt that this event was the highlight of many kids’ and parents’ quarantine,” graduate Connor O’Guynn said. “All I saw were smiles on the other seniors’ faces, and all I heard was that chatter of everyone catching up and laughing like they hadn’t laughed in a very long time. Also judging by the sheer amount of effort I saw put into some car decorations, I can tell that everyone was just as excited and happy to be there as I was.”
The seniors at Waltrip High School, 1900 W. 34th St., participated in a similar parade through Oak Forest two days earlier. Families of the seniors drove the cars, with the graduates in the passenger seats, as the school’s staff and the community cheered them on.
“The excitement was overwhelming. As the students entered the school grounds emotions were felt throughout the campus route,” said Doris Aguilar, the parent engagement representative for the school. “Students and staff were very emotional, we celebrated and cried in unison for the successful achievement our students were not able to celebrate on a stage.”
The streets in front of Hogg Middle School, 1100 Merrill St., also were filled with people celebrating eighth-grade graduates in a parade last Friday. One of those graduates, Candlelight Estates resident Serena Leal, said the parade warmed her heart and she hopes the school continues to do it.
Sandra O’Guynn, Connor’s mother and the senior liaison for the Heights PTO, said their parade was a small gesture in comparison to an actual graduation. But during a pandemic, you work with what you have.
“Our students, as well as all class of 2020 seniors around the world, were denied what we call a rite of passage to have a prom, powder puff football game, decision day celebration, graduation and other senior events marking this milestone,” she said.
Heights’ senior class included 524 students, and more than 200 participated in the parade. The cars full of seniors who drove in the parade were decorated as well, ranging from writing on the windows to balloons, signs, banners and photos of the graduates.
While a few parents said the parade didn’t make up for missing out on a graduation ceremony, Roselinda Loredo, who was at the parade to celebrate two of her granddaughters, said it still recognized the work the students did from kindergarten to graduation.
Loredo even sees parades becoming a tradition in the future as an addition to graduation ceremonies.
None of the high school seniors thought the day before spring break would be the last day they congregated on campus. The parades have served as a bridge to reconnect the seniors as they gear up for the next step in their lives.
“Personally, I feel like the parade helped provide closure to our high school experience. Us seniors missed a lot of the best times that we’ve been working towards for the last 12 years in school, so this definitely helped make up for that,” Connor O’Guynn said. “Of course graduation will provide more closure, but this was a fun and heartwarming event that I think reignited the spirit of our senior class.”