Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Because of COVID-19, commencement and graduation ceremonies across the country were canceled or greatly modified. Fort Leavenworth leaders made an effort to make 132 local graduates feel special with a Graduation Parade May 15 around post.
The parade — which included 91 participating kindergartners, 24 participating Patton Junior High School ninth-graders and 17 area high school seniors — began at Patton and traveled through the housing areas near Eisenhower, Bradley and MacArthur Elementary Schools before ending near the home of Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Commanding General Lt. Gen. James Rainey and his wife Tracy.
“The class of 2020 was missing out on so many traditions, so I was trying to think of some way to honor their accomplishments, let them feel special, and a way that we could all celebrate with them. I think the parade does that for all of them,” Tracy Rainey said. “I hope they know that Jim and I, as well as the entire Fort Leavenworth community, are so proud of their accomplishments, and we hope that as awesome and resilient Army brats that they succeed in everything they do.”
Though Tracy Rainey originally had the idea, she said it was the Garrison team, Unified School District 207 and the village mayors who helped bring the concept to reality.
“It always remains a privilege to have the opportunity to celebrate America’s future, our children,” said Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Antwone Jones. “In the COVID environment, our children have shown resiliency and adaptability that hasn’t been required in generations.”
Keith Mispagel, USD 207 superintendent, said he hoped the parade let the students know how special they are.
“This was truly a great idea to help bring the community together at a time when even with social distancing and focusing on keeping everyone safe and healthy, an event like this can truly bring smiles to faces,” Mispagel said. “It was one of the many great moments when you just know this community is a special place where everyone wants to pick others up in tough times.”
Juliana Lyles, Bradley kindergartner, said the parade was fun.
“I was standing up and everybody just started waving to me and saying, ‘Go Juliana,’” she said. “(The firefighters) were honking their horns.”
Juliana’s mother, Elizabeth Lyles, said she appreciated the efforts of Fort Leavenworth.
“Kindergarten is a big deal. She’s going to real school, and she was kind of bummed when they weren’t going back to school and was very emotional,” Elizabeth Lyles said. “This was such a neat way to close out the year, for her to feel proud in her school and what’s she’s accomplished this year, so we are very grateful that the school took the time to put this together.”
Ledeema Bagosbah, Leavenworth High School senior, said the parade was a great way to make all of the graduates feel special.
“It was nice to see everyone that was part of the Fort Leavenworth community come together to recognize all the seniors and kindergartners and Patton graduates,” Bagosbah said. “It’s bittersweet (to graduate). … I know that this is a new chapter of my life that I’m ready to jump into and experience.”
Bagosbah had more than one celebration when her co-workers at the Post Exchange surprised her with a graduation party May 7.
“I didn’t see it coming at all,” Bagosbah said. “It made me feel so appreciated and that people actually cared that I wasn’t having a traditional graduation.”
The 70 graduating Patton ninth-graders also got a double celebration with a virtual graduation ceremony May 14 on the Fort Leavenworth School District Facebook page.
The graduation included remarks from two representatives of the graduating class, Amari Waddi and Gabby Ho-Olinger; recognition of 12 students who attended Patton seventh- through ninth-grade known as “Patton Perseverance;” and four students who have attended USD 207 since kindergarten known as “USD 207 Lifers.”
“If you have a dream, pursue that dream or career and go for that dream job,” Waddi said. “You all have the potential to be great at whatever field you enter in. …Patton has offered us the tools we need to make it through the rest of high school and college. Now, you have to use them to their full potential.”
Ho-Olinger encouraged her fellow graduates to make the best of any situation, just like they have had to do with COVID-19.
“Even though you can’t control the things around you, it doesn’t mean you can’t control your reaction to it and what you make of it,” Ho-Olinger said. “Turning something so negative in your life can be quite the challenge, but it isn’t impossible.”
Anneliesse Murphy, Patton ninth-grader who narrated the graduation, represented Patton Perseverance and USD 207 Lifers.
“It’s been amazing seeing the people we have turned into over time and seeing the friendships grown and the connections made,” Murphy said. “I know that the future USD 207 Lifers will feel the same.”
Lt. Gen. James Rainey also had remarks for the ninth-grade class and all of the graduates.
“America is the greatest country in the world and, like our Declaration of Independence says, you’re entitled to the pursuit of happiness,” Rainey said. “You’re not guaranteed happiness, but in America, you’re guaranteed to be able to pursue it, and that means you can be anything you want to be in this country.
“I know that you’re all going to be successful,” he said. “There are many paths to that success, but I’m sure that all of you will find one and be able to pursue and achieve happiness in this great country, and you’re off to a great start.”