Traditional graduation ceremonies may not happen this year but the San Dieguito Union High School District is determined to find creative ways to make sure the class of 2020 is celebrated and recognized for their accomplishments.
Wendy Miyazaki, a senior and the La Costa Canyon High School representative on the school board, said most seniors would prefer to have all the pomp and circumstance of a “real” graduation ceremony: “We would like it to be as normal as possible and nothing virtual,” she said.
“We really want a physical graduation no matter how long it takes,” echoed Jack Farfel, the Canyon Crest Academy student representative on the board.
Jack has been involved in conversations with Principal Brett Killeen as CCA, like all district schools, has involved students in having a say on how they want to mark the end of their high school careers. “I just love how much we’re all putting into it, everyone’s really hearing our perspective which just feels great because in a time where we’re all far apart it’s kind of bringing us together,” said Jack,
Jack, who plans to attend the University of Michigan in the fall, said he still wants to come back for a traditional graduation whenever it is, even if it has to be postponed as far out as next summer.
According to the California Department of Education’s hold harmless policy, if a student was on track to a graduate by March 13, they will remain eligible to receive a diploma. SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley said students who need extra assistance will be given every opportunity to become eligible.
In planning end of the year celebrations for the seniors, the high schools are working under the current public health order that prevents all gatherings. All of the high schools are planning to bring seniors together safely on what would have been their graduation day, working with the understanding that things may still change in the coming weeks.
“It would be easy when we started talking about graduation activities for seniors to make a long list of what we cannot do. It was liberating and empowering to shift that mindset and say ‘There’s a lot that we can do and should do’,” said Killeen, who said he feels a special connection to the class of 2020 as they both arrived at CCA at the same time.
At the board’s May 14 virtual meeting, Killeen said he surveyed over 300 seniors and they were very clear that they did not want a virtual graduation. Killeen said CCA staff is preparing a video documentary that tells the class of 2020’s story, staff videos, senior awards and is holding a t-shirt design competition for the canceled Grad Night. They will host a parade to honor seniors on campus on June 12.
“My heart goes out to all of our seniors who are experience the sadness and the disappointment because their senior year milestone activities are not all what they expected this year,” said Reno Medina, principal at La Costa Canyon.
With feedback from LCC students and parents, the Maverick family has come together to plan senior activities such as staff videos, a slide show and spring sports ceremonies. On June 12, they will hold a Senior Sendoff on campus which will provide seniors a chance to be celebrated, see their campus and teachers one last time and exit their high school careers. Students will be given the option to wear a cap and gown or their Mav gear.
Wendy said she is also hoping that LCC can host a prom or senior boat dance later in the summer if possible, before she heads off to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
At San Dieguito High School Academy, Principal Adam Camacho is working with seniors, the foundation, the administration and alumni to celebrate their seniors in the SDA Way. While they will have a June 12 campus parade to honor seniors’ four years of hard work, they have committed to doing a traditional commencement when it is safe to do so.
As their new campus is currently under construction, Sunset High School’s graduation parade will take place in the SDA parking lot on June 11. Principal Rick Ayala said staff will be out to cheer on their graduates and each student will receive a recorded message from their advisor and have their name announced as their diploma is safely exchanged.
“At TP we’re just trying to focus on staying connected as a class,” said senior Torrey Pines senior Cole Parker, who is excited to attend Texas Christian University this fall.
With input from students and parent groups, Principal Rob Coppo is planning a procession through the campus’ winding parking lot on graduation day June 12 where teachers can say goodbye and students can don their caps and gowns.
“They’re going through something no other generation of high school students has ever experienced,” Coppo said. “I have so much love and respect for the way our seniors throughout the district have handled this.”
District middle schools Earl Warren, Carmel Valley, Pacific Trails, Oak Crest and Diegueno are also planning ways to celebrate eighth graders who are promoting to high school. Cara Dolnik, principal at Diegueno, said promotion videos will drop on June 12 featuring student names and photos, quotes and recognitions, music, speeches and staff wishing students well. No two middle school’s videos will be the same as each will feature their unique school traditions.
“We miss them and are so very proud of their K-8 accomplishments and want to wish them the very best as they begin their high school journeys,” said Dolnik, speaking on behalf of all the middle school principals.
Haley thanked his principals for staying connected with students and families and making sure all perspectives on end of the year celebrations were heard. Since the school closures, he said there has been a lot of grieving over the disrupted year but principals have tried their best to have a positive outlook.
“The class of 2020 missed out on a lot but the class of 2020 will be remembered forever,” Haley said.