La Costa Canyon High School seniors see signs of hope

La Costa Canyon senior Sophie Tulino with a graduation sign that her mother, Anna Tulino, and other parents posted to celebrate the class of 2020.
La Costa Canyon senior Sophie Tulino with a graduation sign that her mother, Anna Tulino, and other parents posted to celebrate the class of 2020.
(Photo courtesy of Anna Tulino)

Parents and siblings planned a surprise gesture for graduating seniors at the Carlsbad high school


The parents and siblings carried out their task quietly, after dark on Friday, April 17, and early into the next morning.

When seniors from La Costa Canyon High School woke on Saturday, April 18, they found a surprise. Senior Susie Shaffer’s mom told her to take a look, saying “the La Costa Canyon fairy came,” the 18-year-old senior recounted.

On the front lawns on Shaffer and 300 other seniors were blue and green signs with the Maverick’s bullhorn logo, recognizing the class of 2020. Each individual sign let seniors know that their high school milestones weren’t forgotten, though events such as graduation, grad night and prom may be delayed or canceled. A neighborhood full of them reminded students that their community is supporting each other in the face of loss or disappointment.

“I thought the idea to create the signs was so nice and so thoughtful,” said La Costa senior Hannah Mitchell, 17. “I went driving with my family the other day, and it was nice to see one in my own yard, but to see them in my neighbors yards made it so holistic. It was a reminder that everyone’s going through this together.”

The idea came about when some students’ mothers were trying to think of ways to commemorate their final year of high school, while maintaining social distancing standards.

“I had just been racking my brain on what kind of special things I could do for these kids,” said Anna Tulino, mother of two daughters in 11th and 12th grade at the Carlsbad school. “Initially, I thought of a T-shirt. But we have a yard sign from when my daughter played volleyball, so I thought it would be pretty cool.”

Each year, the senior class selects a motto to represent their group spirit and experience, Tulino said. The 2020 slogan was almost prescient.

“This year’s was ‘stronger,’ which is perfect for what is happening right now,” Tulino said.

Junior Cami Cox, whose older brother is a graduating senior, designed the graphic for the signs, pulling together the school colors with other elements.

“My brother is a senior, and he has been sad about not finishing his year, being at home, so we thought we’d do something special for the senior class,” she said. “I went off of the quote; this year, it was ‘stronger together.’ So I wanted to incorporate that in the design, as well as our Maverick logo and 2020, to make it feel personalized and special.”

They brought the design to One Day Signs, a print shop in Encinitas, where owner Marco San Antonio produced the first batch of 300. He said he was happy to help with the project, and the job helped him during the downturn. Since then, he has received similar orders from neighboring high schools, he said.

“This is one of the things that’s able to keep me afloat is the ability to make these signs,” he said. “I was hanging out here making signs for the city and the restaurants doing take out. Once that died down, this helped pick up the slack, and pay my bills and pay my rent, and keep me working. I’m a one man shop, so I just keep plugging.”

The organizers distributed half a dozen to a dozen signs each to volunteers, including the principal, who placed them on front lawns after 9 p.m. Friday or early Saturday. They also made smaller signs for businesses to post, and are doing a second run of 100 more lawn signs, Tulino said. They hope to keep spreading the lawn sign love for a couple more months, multiplying the message around town, until June 12, the date originally planned for graduation.

“I think the seniors loved it,” she said. “It’s just something little, that I think went a long way. I hope it’s something that continues to grow, so that they see it when they’re driving around town.”

Shaffer agrees. This year’s crisis and resultant closures isn’t the sendoff they were expecting, but she and other students count themselves fortunate to have a supportive community.

“It’s definitely a little stressful and concerning because everything is so uncertain,” she said. “But what does make me feel better is to see that all the parents are so caring, and all the teachers are working really hard to make us have the best experience possible.”

— Deborah Sullivan Brennan is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune