Orion rolls out village-wide celebration for Class of 2020
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Orion rolls out village-wide celebration for Class of 2020

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If the 75 Orion High School students roll through the rest of their lives with the applause and support they had Sunday, their successes will be unmatched.

From churches, front yards, curbs and folks gathered in their yards, the Orion High School Class of 2020 heard cheers, hollers and saw banners and signs decorated with their names during a senior celebration and town cruise that went through almost every street in the Henry County village.

Graduates rode in the backs of pickup trucks and cars while people they have known their whole lives gave them a non-traditional graduation bash.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Orion High School, which had set its graduation date for Sunday, could not hold its usual graduation ceremonies.

Principal Nathan DeBaillie had heard about other municipalities that celebrated in a similar fashion, so he spoke with parents and students who thought the idea as a good one.

DeBaillile, an Orion graduate himself, was pleased at the response to social-media and robo-call invitations for folks to join in from their front yards to maintain social distancing.

Because street closures were part of the event, DaBaillie needed the blessing of the village officials, and he got it.

“It’s the last thing we can do to recognize these kids,” said Mayor Jim Cooper. He and the entire village board were 100% behind this, he said.

Just as the mayor and other city administrators planned, the caravan crisscrossed avenues and streets – nearly every street except for Highway 150.

Parent Becky Jungwirth enjoyed a trifecta of celebration. Her son Ryan, 18, along with his good friend Traven Nordstrom, 19, who stayed with the family because his parents had to move out of town, were part of the Sunday celebration.

“It was awesome, for us as parents, knowing the whole town is out there supporting these kids,” she said. She was delighted for the boys to feel the love of the whole community.

She also was part of a “drive-by” celebration for her daughter Morgan Jungwirth, 21, who graduated from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Taryn Dunlap, whose son Ben Dunlap, 18, will go on to Wartburg College, said parents are sad that the students didn’t get a traditional celebration. “But this is a great way for the community to support the kids,” she said. “This is one of the benefits of living in a small town.” Most of the residents would have come to a traditional graduation anyway, she said.

The family truck was decorated with banners – including a Wartburg College sign.

Graduate Tyler Wilburn, 18, of Coal Valley, who will further his academic studies at Loyola, has known many of his classmates since kindergarten because he attended Orion schools all his life.

His parents, Becky and Chad Wilburn, decorated their pickup truck.

At first he was a little skeptical about whether it would work, but he knew it the caravan idea had caught on when he saw how much the whole community was supporting the class, with signs all over town.

“It shows how, growing up in a small town, the whole community can support us,” he said.

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