ATTICA — “Don’t stop believing! Hold on to that feeling! Streetlights, people...”
“That’s what this class is all about,” said middle-school counselor Mary Beth Brotherton-Hardie, a wide smile plastered across her face as she ran from one car to the next in the high-school’s parking lot, offering her congratulations and ensuring every student had what they needed for the parade ahead. “Attica Class of 2020, don’t stop believin’! Anything is possible.”
Just before 7 p.m. on Friday, she and dozens of students found themselves in a whirlwind of orange and blue balloons, ribbons and zip-ties, bottles of paint and a sea of smiles. It was supposed to have been graduation night. But COVID-19 had, of course, changed everything. And so the Class of 2020 gathered for a parade, instead.
And though they all acknowledged that the event would prove a bittersweet end to their senior year, they couldn’t deny their excitement for what lay ahead, either.
“Oh yes, we are very excited,” said Ashley Glor, as she and friend Allie Church made last-minute adjustments to a graduation sign they’d hung — a little crooked — from a truck window. “I missed being here a lot, but it’s good to be back and seeing everyone around brings back so many good memories.”
It almost hadn’t happened that way.
“Graduation was going to roll out in three separate ceremonies, but kids were not happy about that,” said Brotherton-Hardie, whose own daughter, Claudia, is a member of the class. “When they rolled out the plan for graduation, that’s all the kids kept saying was, ‘We can’t be with our friends!’ They wanted to get together one more time, so the parents got together, and we decided to do a parade.”
With the superintendent’s blessing, and special help from parents Linda Hoffmeister, Nikki Parkhurst and Brotherton-Hardie herself, the final plans soon emerged. On Friday night, rain or shine, the class would gather to celebrate, all as one — no matter what happened with graduation, thanks to the parade, they’d get one last chance to be together, after all.
And that was something for which Cody Coughlin, another Attica senior, said he was especially grateful.
“Sure, I’m a little excited to get this decorated,” Coughlin said.
He and his family had driven his dad’s truck, “because it was the nicest-looking vehicle to drive around in,” and a couple of family friends were helping to make it festive ahead of the parade, because Coughlin admitted he “didn’t know what to do for this.”
But what he was really excited for, he said, was the people.
“Oh yeah, I’m so excited to be here and to see everyone,” Coughlin, an aspiring welder, laughed. “Since March, everything’s been so dead and isolated. This is the first time I’m seeing most of my friends.”
He soon rushed off to greet them, to share hugs and handshakes, and to recall some of his favorite memories of high-school, while, in other places, and other spaces, his classmates did the same. There were more hugs and memories shared, bouquets of balloons tied tight, even a few rolls of Scott toilet paper expertly placed, and then, just like that, they were off.
Escorted by seven police vehicles and two fire trucks, and led by retiring elementary teachers Mr. Tim David and Mrs. Terry Reynolds, a trail of about 30 vehicles soon crept out onto Main Street, where families and friends lined the sidewalks to hoop and holler and cheer the young graduates on as they snaked down Prospect and Route 98 before coming to rest at Veteran’s Memorial Park.
Beyond the blare of the sirens that wailed through the village, and the staccato honk of several dozen horns, came the chorus of that familiar song — “Oh the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on...”
As the sun sank lower in a cloudless sky, its melody drifted through a long and unlikely parade of fire trucks and police cars, vintage Beetles and massive tractors, new cars and old ones, rusted ones and shining ones, and even, somewhere in the middle, a flatbed truck that carried a sofa full of young men in caps and gowns.
“This year, it’s so sad — it’s very tough, very tough,” Brotherton-Hardie said. “But we are still so lucky. The weather is beautiful, and perhaps this is the beginning of a brand-new Attica tradition — one last chance to be together before whatever comes next. We mean it — don’t stop believin’.”
At the park, about a half hour later, the pandemic seemed a thing of the past — seniors in their caps and gowns laughed with one another and posed for photos before they ran off to sign yearbooks, or to enjoy some snacks from Buckaroo’s food-truck, or a cone of Yummies home-made ice cream, all courtesy of the Teacher’s Union.
A quick survey of the crowd revealed excitement, exuberance, and despite everything they’d endured, overwhelming happiness.
“We did it,” one graduate shouted, flailing her arms through her vehicle’s sunroof. “We made it!”
And they had, after all.