By COURTNEY ANDERSON •

H&N Staff Reporter

Parents, grandparents and community members cheered for the nearly 500 high school graduates as they walked down Main Street during the inaugural Graduation Sensation parade Thursday.

Signs that read, “Proud of Our Graduate” and “Proud of You Class of 2016” were held by the parade-goers while the Klamath Union High School band headed the march.

The first Graduation Sensation parade, sponsored by Klamath Promise, celebrates the graduating class on earning their diplomas and encourages students still in school to finish.

Afterward, high school students from Klamath Falls City and Klamath County school districts marched from 11th Street down Main, and gathered around the Veterans Memorial Park stage to listen to motivational speakers and to receive scholarships.

About $20,000 in scholarships were given out that afternoon. Some of the awards went to students who increased their GPA by 1.0 point, were accepted into a two-year school or were the first generation in their family to graduate and continue their education.

Justin Hughes, Klamath Union High School Senior, received a $1,000 for being the first on his dad’s side to graduate high school and continue to college.

“I honestly didn’t think I had a shot at winning it, but I’m really glad that I did. It’s going to help out a lot because my tools for my mechanics degree are $4,000,” Hughes said.

Hughes plans on attending Klamath Community College to study automotive technology and small business. He said graduating high school means a lot to him.

“I feel that this is going to give me more confidence in college and that if I can do one, I can do the other,” Hughes said.

He added that being the first to graduate in his family doesn’t just affect him, but his two younger siblings as well.

“I think me graduating, and them actually seeing me cross the stage will be big and make them think, ‘I should do this, and I should try harder to do this,’ ” Hughes said.

Seeing siblings in their caps and gowns wasn’t the only incentive for the “littles,” or elementary to middle school students who attended the parade. Many received mini graduation gowns and some held signs that read, ‘Graduate of 2023.’

Holly Stork, Klamath Promise Steering Committee member and Klamath and Lake Counties SMART area manager, said the effort to include the younger students kick starts their interest in graduating.

She said she hopes the “littles” will march in the parade every year until they’re marching to get their rewards.

“Today was extremely successful. There were parents and parade goers that had mascara running down behind their sunglasses because they were so happy,” Stork said. “It was such a joyus, energized occasion and it truly embodied what we’re trying to do, and that is success through education.”

Sergio Cisneros, a teacher at Lost River School, started the speeches to congratulate students and to leave them with encouraging words. In his speech, he said to be proud of who you are and to choose greatness. Secondly, he added, it’s important to have respect for yourself, community and family. Thirdly, Cisneros encouraged students to embrace failure, and to “keep pounding.”

Hedi Neel Biggs, a local advocacy organizer and Mazama High School graduate, also spoke at the ceremony.

“My point is this, embrace your hometown roots and use them to steady and ground yourselves as you move into the next chapter of your life. Remember the lessons you’ve learned here and trust your experiences. Stay friendly and don’t expect reward without good deeds or effort,” Neel Biggs said. “The big world starts in a little town.”

Caps & Gowns … and inspiration