Nearly 500 graduating high school seniors — sporting their school colors in caps and gowns — marched down Main Street to Veterans Park Thursday while onlookers cheered their success and school marching bands serenaded them.

The 2nd Annual Graduation Sensation, coordinated by Klamath Promise, gave out more than $20,000 in scholarship money to some 40 lucky seniors as they sat in the warm sunshine of the park, drank water and ate celebration cake.

All told, there are 625 graduating seniors from the various high schools in Klamath County this season.

“This is the largest graduation celebration in the state of Oregon,” Ray Holliday of Holliday Jewelers and a Klamath Promise board member, told the gathering. Noting that unlike other generations, cell phones are the center of finding information, “You have everything right in your pocket with your cell phone. But more importantly, you have limitless opportunity ahead of you,” he said.

Klamath Promise is a consortium of school district officials, private business people and public servants. Its goal is to move the dial on high school graduation numbers, which have been traditionally low in Oregon and Klamath County, but are showing signs of improving. This is the fifth year for the organization. The graduation celebration bookends with a September Graduation Motivation to be held at the Ross Ragland theater just after the start of school.

“The best way to move the numbers is to attend school,” Holliday told the group. “So, even though you are graduating today, you must do your part to convince those coming after you, your brothers and sisters, to stay in school.”

For Corrina Pimentel, a Mazama High School grad, Thursday was her lucky day as she was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from Klamath Falls Subaru.

“I’m so happy. I’m going to Klamath Community College to study as an EMT and this will help pay for my books,” Pimentel said.

Anna Sheadel and Lennaya Monteith, both from Mazama High School, are planning on attending Oregon Tech next year; one in civil engineering and the other in the bio-health field.

“It’s nice to be recognized for our accomplishments,” Sheadel said of the event.

Andea Day of Henley said, “I’m excited for graduation. I plan on attending art school in Seattle.”

And Erik Pena of Klamath Union said he was nervous for graduation, but has a summer job working at Subway and plays on studying automotive mechanics.

Holly Plzel, Gilchrist High School valedictorian, noted, “It’s actually really exciting, it only comes once in your life so it’s a day of celebration. It’s nice because we’re at the northern part of the county, so we don’t get to interact with the other schools. It’s nice to form new relationships.”

Natalie Hanson and Charlotte Waite, both Triad High School Valedictorians remarked on the event.

“It’s still very surreal, thinking about next year I’m not going to go to school with the kids I’ve been attending with for 12-plus years. It’s really emotional,” Waite said.

“Our class has lost and gained a lot of people, so while there’s some diversity in that we’re all so different but we’ve all come together and got along really well, so it’s going to be weird leaving those attachments behind,” Hanson said.

“My mom has slowly been giving me more responsibilities to train me and be open to living on my own. I have two older brothers and one of them just graduated from OIT, so I’ve seen what he’s gone through, so hopefully I’ll be ready. I know it will still be a super huge shock though,” said Hanson.

Waite said, “I’ll definitely be calling my parents for questions every other day…and for money.”

The scholarship criteria covers a gamut of options for those seniors applying. Some sought seniors who may be the first in their family to graduate high school or attend college. Other criteria asked students to show improvement in their grade point average. Not all the scholarships were focused on attending college, as some were for students planning to attend trade schools, or for joining the military. Some received bookstore certificates to purchase books at OIT or KCC. The scholarships ranged from $250 up to $1,000.

The finalists were drawn at random and students had to be present to win. If a winning student is unsure of their plans, they have several months to use the money or return the award.

Look for a complete list of winners in Sunday’s Herald and News.

Led by the Henley High School JROTC, the Classes of 2017 filled Main Street for the Graduation Sensation parade Thursday, marching from one end of town to Veterans Park.

The Classes of 2017 filled Main Street for the Graduation Sensation parade. Seniors from every Klamath County High School attended, amounting to more than 500 students.

Chiloquin Jr./Sr. High School senior Lofanitani Aisea walks in the 2017 Graduation Sensation parade on Thursday.

Klamath Union High School students walk in the 2017 Graduation Sensation parade.

Lost River Jr./Sr. High School students walk in the 2017 Graduation Sensation parade.

Ponderosa Middle School students cheer on graduates at the Graduation Sensation parade on Thursday.

Members of the Classes of 2017 sported signs of support from the community during Thursday’s walk.

Members of the Classes of 2017 walk in the Graduation Sensation parade on Thursday.

Klamath Promise scholarship winners fill out paperwork and thank you cards to the donors Thursday.

Corrina Pimentel, a Mazama High School grad, was surprised was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from Klamath Falls Subaru.

Graduates attending the Graduation Sensation had chances to win $500 and $1,000 scholarships through the Klamath Promise.