Middletown parade celebrates graduates from 'Covid School of Hard Knocks'


Patricia Talorico,

Michelle Foster began brainstorming a plan about 2 1/2 weeks ago to honor all 36 of the graduating high school and college seniors in her Middletown neighborhood.

Traditional spring commencement ceremonies at schools in Delaware and across the nation are being postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus. 

Foster, a middle school teacher and a parent of a soon-to-be-graduate, understands that not being able to watch a child walk in the ceremony and get handed a diploma this year will be a major disappointment for families.

So, on Saturday afternoon, her Back Creek community went to Plan B.

Most of the neighborhood's future graduates, from the safety of their cars, paraded throughout the Back Creek development as residents clapped and waved.

Neighbors also planted homemade signs of congratulations in their front yards.

As many as 50 students from about 10 schools participated in the informal recognition of their milestones.

It gives them something to remember these times," Foster said. "We're a very realistic household. Sixty years ago, these kids would be going to Vietnam. Hopefully, this is memorable. It's sad that [graduations] aren't happening. But, the sun will come up tomorrow. And it's not the end of the world. I really think that."

The parade began at 4 p.m, with cars lining up at the Clayton Manor Drive entrance of the golf course community near the Summit Bridge and off Choptank Road.

Balloons were tied to the mailbox of the homes of the graduates and each one received an individually-wrapped rose donated by Elana's Broad St. Florist & Gifts in Middletown. 

Foster and other neighbors also created "goodie" bags to hand out. 

"It's just silly stuff," she said of the bags for the graduates that were filled with Tastykake Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, soap bubbles, pretzels and, in keeping with the lighthearted theme, a roll of hard-to-find toilet paper.

The parade route, about 5 miles in length, included every one of the 10 or 11 streets in the neighborhood, Foster said.

Foster said she helped create the event not just for her son Arlee Conway, 18, who is a senior at Appoquinimink High School, but for other residents with graduating students.

She said the students that were honored attend various Delaware public, private, vo-tech and charter high schools and from colleges both instate and elsewhere.

Foster said not everyone who lives in one of the 300 houses in Back Creek had a graduating senior, but neighbors told her they still wanted to participate.

When she posted about her plan on the community's Facebook page, Foster said she was "flooded" with offers to help.

Neighbor Patti King created "quarantine diplomas" for each graduate. "I went online and found a template for diplomas," she said. The faux diplomas with gold seals read that students were graduating from the "Covid School of Hard Knocks."

King wore a cap and gown she borrowed from her son and gave out the diplomas, along with the long-stem red roses with Baby's-breath, to the students as they drove by her home on Cruden Bay Court.

King said she had no children graduating this year – her oldest is a sophomore in college and her younger children are sophomores and juniors at Appoquinimink High School.

"We had to cancel plans to see my niece graduate in Arizona," King said. "I've got kids. It could have been one of them."

The Back Creek neighborhood had 34 of 36 graduates participate in Saturday's parade.

Foster said the two who didn't attend were at their first-responder jobs at Christiana Hospital and at a medical position at another location

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