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Seniors invited to “Ride of Fame” graduation celebration

LAPLACE — Local churches, businesses and officials are uniting to honor all 520 graduating seniors with an unforgettable “Ride of Fame” featuring monetary gifts, sweet treats and luxurious door prizes.

The St. John Parish Senior Drive-Thru Graduation Celebration is an unprecedented occasion to cap off an unexpected school year. For every senior tradition lost to COVID-19, there stands an army of community members determined to give the Class of 2020 a worthy send-off.

The event will take place Friday, May 22 in the New Wine Christian Fellowship parking lot. Seniors will line up in cars at the Joe Keller Stadium and parade down Airline Highway in accordance to the following schedule:

  • Charles Catholic – 10 to 11 a.m.
  • Riverside Academy – 11 a.m. to noon
  • West St. John High – noon to 1 p.m.
  • East St. John High – 1 to 3 p.m.

All drive-thru participants will be entered into a prize drawing conducted via Facebook Live from 4 to 6 p.m. One lucky senior will win a vehicle, while others will receive iPads and senior baskets filled with special gifts to help them navigate the next chapter of their lives, wherever that road may lead them.

The parish-wide event will also feature gift bags for all seniors containing a $25 monetary gift card, along with journals, inspirational books and snacks from local vendors. Seniors will grab snowballs, donuts and other treats before they reach the end of the procession, where they can hop out of their cars to take a silly picture in front of their school backdrop.

The entire event will be captured on video to be posted online and sent to each of the schools. It will also be streamed on FM radio, allowing students to listen to valedictorian speeches from the comfort of their cars during the Ride of Fame.

Pastor Neil Bernard of New Wine Christian Fellowship said this large-scale celebration is a community effort made possible by school administration, countless local businesses, clergy and governmental leaders.

The idea came about during one of the COVID-19 food distributions. Seeing cars lined down Airline Highway, awaiting fresh produce, volunteers mused that the same drive-thru concept could be used for a senior celebration.

Bernard said it is amazing what the community can accomplish when coming together as a team. He added that high school graduation is the biggest accomplishment in a young person’s life, and helping the Class of 2020 is a worthy cause.

“It’s always great when we can be a part of bringing joy to our seniors,” Bernard said. “They worked hard. They studied long hours. No one anticipated that the year would end the way it did. Your senior year is one you look forward to with promise and with dreams. COVID-19 has turned our world upside down, but I believe that in every situation, we can see opportunities will come out of it.”

Coordinator Patricia Triche said St. John is one of the only parishes in the region pulling together to plan a special day for all seniors.

The St. John Sheriff’s Office will lead the procession from Joe Keller Stadium to the New Wine facility. Once there, students will see business leaders, school employees and elected officials cheering them on from the sidelines.

Volunteers will wear facemasks and follow social distancing protocols to prioritize safety. The New Wine parking lot will also feature two large projection screens airing video clips from each of the four schools.

Pastor Neil Bernard, Alvin Scioneaux and Deputy Leroy Victoriano work out the logistics for a massive drive-thru celebration honoring more than 500 St. John Parish seniors.

Every student coming through the drive-thru will receive a certificate that declares him or her a champion for graduating during a pandemic, according to Triche.

“These kids have been through a lot. This is not a School Board thing; it’s a Parish thing, and everybody is doing their part,” Triche said. “This is something they can look forward to because they had a lot taken from them. It’s going to be exciting.”

Students may choose to dress in their cap and gowns or come out in relaxed summer clothes. Families are encouraged to decorate their cars. A prize will be given for the most festive decorations, and more prizes will follow in the Facebook Live after the event.

While much of the planning is done, community members can still pitch in to make the seniors feel special. Triche is asking everyone in St. John Parish to consider writing an encouraging letter to a 2020 senior. The letters can be dropped off beginning Monday in front of New Wine Christian Fellowship in LaPlace, and they will be included in the senior gift bags.

Donations for snacks and soft drinks are also being accepted at New Wine through Wednesday.

“It touches my heart that we can all come together. If we can all come together as a parish, we need to stay together as a parish. We can solve a lot more problems together than divided,” Triche said. “Whether the school is private, public, parochial – these are all our kids in St. John the Baptist Parish Schools. This is a way people can show that they care. So many times, people say they are going to do something but they don’t. This is us putting our words into actions.”