The teens were overdressed Thursday morning — sporting graduation cap and gowns — and walking through local elementary schools some of them previously attended.
But it wasn’t a fashion faux pas but rather a wildly popular tradition at Lakota Schools where graduating seniors parade through elementary schools to cheers from youngsters they hope to inspire.
In a new twist this year, the soon-to-be-graduates from Lakota East High School carried small signs noting where they are going to college, trade schools, military service or jobs after earning their diplomas. The signs demonstrate the range of post-graduation options available to students.
A hero’s welcome greeted dozens of seniors as Woodland Elementary youngsters lining the hallways of the Liberty Township school gleefully gave out shouts and high fives to the parading teens.
And according to the excited, young students, it all worked.
“This was a very inspiring thing,” said sixth-grader Cara Raiford.
“You get to see all these graduates go through and little kids get to see that they could be like this someday, walking through their building,” said Cara.
“And my brother was actually in this, so I feel like this is very inspiring for me too because someday I’m going to walk through this school and see how much it has changed,” she said.
MORE: 1st year of Lakota grads parading through grade schools
Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for 16,500-student Lakota Schools, said the “Parade Of Grads” was held at all of Lakota’s elementary schools and also featured invited parents of the senior high students.
“To the graduates it’s a chance to the elementary schools where they started and see their teachers and their parents and community members who have been supporting them,” said Fuller.
“For the elementary school kids, it’s a way for them to look ahead and see what’s possible,” she said.
Lakota East senior Jillian Lewis proudly displayed a sign announcing she is headed to Ohio University after graduation. The emotional support of the youngsters took her by surprise.
“I’m going to cry. It was really fun though and exciting,” said Lewis.
Every graduate leaves with a collection of inspiring letters written by their younger counterparts.
For some it was a homecoming to their former grade school and it all got to senior Sam Ballman.
The tall, former Lakota East football player towered over youngsters trying to high five him, but it was he who was touched.
“This is really awesome taking a trip down memory lane … and seeing all the smiles on the students faces was crazy,” said Ballman.
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