The Unity Church, at 14747 Arizona Avenue in Woodbridge, hosted a surprise ceremony and homecoming parade to honor its high school seniors on Saturday, June 6.
Senior Pastor Dr. Nelson K. Williams and his wife, First Lady Lillian Williams, chose to host this event for their high school seniors because they were not able to have a traditional graduation ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Unity Church has high school seniors from high schools in Fairfax, Prince William and, Stafford county public schools. Lilian Williams said the entire event was hosted through their youth ministry.
“We contacted each of the seniors’ parents and got the names of their favorite restaurants and things they liked so that the congregation could purchase gifts for them,” she said.
The church was able to lure the students to the church by telling them they were having a photoshoot outside the church so that everyone arrived in their cap and gown.
Each student had their own table set up outside of the church where they could host their family for the event.
Pastor Williams said the church hosted a brief ceremony for the seniors prior to the surprise parade.
“During the senior recognition ceremony, the pastor gave remarks and then corded each senior,” said First Lady Williams.
The cords the seniors received resembled an honor cord from high school, except it had the church’s colors of purple and gold. During the ceremony, each student received a certificate from Unity Church in addition to their cord.
“The address was given by Lt. General Leslie Smith, an army Inspector General,” said Pastor Williams.
Eight seniors from Unity Church were honored during this ceremony. After each senior was awarded their certificate and corded, the ceremony concluded in prayer by Pastor Williams.
Immediately following the event, members of the church drove by and gifted each of the seniors.
First Lady Williams said their reaction was amazed, shocked, and thankful. Each student had a bin at their table and all seniors went home with their bins full.
First Lady Williams expressed her gratitude and credited church member, Sabrina Morris, for taking the lead in organizing the event.
About 75 people came to the event to support the eight seniors.
“The atmosphere was celebratory,” said First Lady Williams, “We played inspirational music. It was a joyful time.”
First Lady Williams said the youth-led the parade of cars around the parking lot.
“We wanted to focus our attention on the future and not what was lost,” said Pastor Williams.
Traditionally, Unity Church takes an entire Sunday to honor the seniors in their congregation, allowing them to march in on ceremonial music in their robes while they are presented with scholarships.
Pastor Williams said the church is holding virtual services due to the coronavirus but they are working on a process to bring their congregation together in smaller groups in the near future.
Pastor Williams and First Lady Williams said the event was a great success.
“One graduate’s mother is in Afghanistan and she was able to video call during the entire ceremony which was special,” said Pastor Williams, “We didn’t want them to feel left out due to the circumstances of COVID.”
Pastor Williams was pleased with the feedback he received from the seniors who attended.
“One of the seniors told me that it was better than a traditional ceremony,” he said, “It was more personalized and the focus was directly on them.”
Schools across Virginia closed their doors in mid-March, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, by order of Gov. Ralph Northam, to stop the spread of the virus.