On Tuesday evening, about 15 cars proceeded slowly down Apache Court in north Frederick. Some honked, others played “Happy Birthday” loudly from stereos, and some had passengers hanging out the windows holding decorated posters.
The celebration procession was all for Jenna Maradei, a Gov. Thomas Johnson High School senior whose 18th birthday fell in the midst of the new reality of social distancing.
Jenna had no idea the parade was coming. Her dad, Mark Maradei, planned the whole thing as a surprise after he saw a video of a family in Poolesville who had done something similar for their daughter.
Maradei asked family, friends and neighbors to come together — at a safe distance — to celebrate Jenna’s milestone birthday.
“I kind of felt 18 is a landmark time in your life, turning into an adult, and on top of that it’s just been such a difficult senior year for her,” Maradei said.
He’s right. Jenna has had what some might call a string of bad luck for her senior year of high school. A cheerleader for TJ High, she got to show her school spirit on the sidelines for only one game after TJ High canceled their football program for the season.
She is also a third-year starter for the TJ High softball team but is now stuck without a season because schools are closed due to concerns over the coronavirus.
“I know when I’m older it’s going to be one heck of a story to tell to my kids and grandkids, that I grew up during this time where ... I didn’t go on a senior break, probably not able to walk across the stage to get my diploma and prom,” she said. “I’m not able to do any of that, and it’s unfortunate, but I know I’m not the only one.”
She’s trying to keep a positive attitude despite everything going on, and seeing a slew of cars and people come out to celebrate her birthday was a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy senior year.
“I’m very thankful for the community to come out just to wish me a happy birthday. They all took time out of their day ... and I am very appreciative of that and thankful for everything,” Jenna said.
Julie Marker was driving one of the cars in the parade. She is Jenna’s cheer coach and has known her since elementary school.
When she got a text from Maradei alerting her of the plan, she immediately responded with “The Markers are in.”
Marker said she was touched to see how many people ended up coming out for Jenna.
“She would show up for anybody. ... She’s got a great giant big heart,” Marker said. “So I’m glad that a lot of people showed up for her.”
There was also the added benefit of getting everyone out of the house to do something fun.
“It actually gave us all a sense of togetherness. ... We’re not getting together anymore for school or sporting events ... and so this was a way that we could still come together for a common reason, all the while maintaining a safe distance from each other,” she said.
Maradei said he hopes the celebration be a lasting memory for his daughter despite the difficult times they are in.
For Jenna, she is thankful to her parents for organizing the parade and for agreeing to a carryout dinner from Red Lobster as a birthday meal.
“I really want some crab legs,” she said.