Westport celebrates Staples graduates with car parade

WESTPORT — Despite the odds, Staples High School’s newest graduates finished what will certainly be one of the most memorable school years in style.

On Friday, more than 400 seniors celebrated their graduation in a police-led parade of cars through town from Long Lots Elementary School to Staples, in many ways symbolizing students’ journey through Westport Public Schools.

Cars arrived in front of Staples where a stage was placed in front of the school entrance to give each graduate their own moment to walk across. While the ceremony marked the end of these students’ journey in Westport, it was a first for Staples principal Stafford Thomas, who was hired last June.

“The way this has all come together says a lot to the Staples community,” Thomas said. “It’s fantastic.”

A graduation committee worked for a month to put together the ceremony, he said. After Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order allowing gatherings of 25 people, they were able to craft a celebration by adding the stage, allowing students to get out of their cars and have their graduation walk.

Although there were challenges faced because of the school’s closure amid the coronavirus pandemic, Thomas credited students for their perseverance in the final school semester.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from this class of 2020 because they are a talented group,” he said.

As parents drove their graduates in highly decorated cars, they were welcomed by faculty and town officials.

“While we feel bad we couldn’t do the traditional graduation, this is really a fun, happy experience,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said. “Everyone who has come by seems to be enjoying it.”

Marpe said in a unique way each graduate was able to be highlighted this year by having their own moment on the stage.

“I’m glad the town was able to work together with the school to make this happen,” he said.

Groups of four to six students were allowed to stand outside their car at a time until each of their names were called. They then had their moment to walk across the stage and pose for photos.

John Bayers, human resources director for the district, said he was happy students were able to have the car parade and not just a virtual graduation. He said he hoped the ceremony could provide some closure for a truly unique graduating class.

“This is a group that was born when 9/11 happened, it’s a group that lived through Sandy Hook and is now having this experience,” Bayers said. “That’s quite a run for this group of seniors.”

He said he was thankful for the work by both school faculty and town officials to put the ceremony together. He also highlighted the work done around town, including the Downtown Merchants Association members who put banners up on Main Street with the graduates’ names.

“We’re grateful for the community effort here,” Bayers said. “I think everybody wanted to come together and make it a special experience for the kids.”