Each high school will stream a video graduation at the same time and date as originally intended

Photo courtesy Chris Foster
Molly Foster, a Sobrato High School senior, in her cap and gown while sheltering in place at home.

By Isabel Soloaga

Graduating from high school after 13 years of classroom time and homework is a huge accomplishment that well deserves recognition. Many students in Morgan Hill have faced momentous challenges to earning their diploma with the added hardships of a sudden switch to online learning in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them is Isaac Arias, a senior at Central High School.

Overwhelmed by health problems in his freshman year, he got off to a tough start in school. However, through grit he completed his graduation requirements even as Santa Clara County’s shelter-in-place order made it even harder.

“Online work is tough for me,” Arias said. “I’m still grinding out the work. I have to make sure that graduation is still a go.”

The young man works as a videographer for the media company, Rolling Loud. Before the lock-down, he worked with artists including rapper Travis Scott and other rising stars, filming concerts around the country. Completely self-taught, he hopes to make an income off of his passion in his post-high school year.

“It sucks,” said Arias on missing out on a traditional cap-and-gown graduation. “I’m a photographer as well. I was there for the seniors last year. It’s a big thing to miss out on. You put all those years to work toward that moment.”

Although in many ways incomparable, the faculty and staff of Morgan Hill Unified School District share a similar feeling of dismay as students at not being able to hold a traditional graduation, said Superintendent Steve Betando.

“For seniors, this moment is supposed to be the culmination of their entire life of education. It’s the moment that they’ve looked forward to,” he said. “It is the defining moment that is the threshold to their adulthood. It’s so frustrating not being able to give them that celebratory moment.”

Instead of the cap-and-gown ceremony, each high school will stream a video graduation at the same time and on the same date as originally intended when the school year’s schedule was set last year.

“The plan is pretty much set for the virtual graduations,”  Betando said.

Central High School students will graduate June 4.

Sobrato and Live Oak graduations are set for Friday, June 5.

Each virtual graduation will include all of the traditional components of a graduation ceremony including pre-recorded valedictorian and salutatorian speeches, photo slideshows of all the 2020 graduates, and videos showing highlights from the school year.

Graduation traditionally represents a rite of passage for young people entering the adult world, the superintendent said.

“Commencement means to start, and they can’t even hit the starting line after graduation,” he said.

Ana Fuenzalida, senior class president at Live Oak, recently committed to attend the University of Massachusetts, Boston. With the current crisis, however, she has doubts about her future plans because of COVID-19 and how it’s impacting higher education. Many colleges and universities have announced they’ll be providing only online courses in the next academic year.

“In the back of my head, I feel like that’s going to be taken away from me as well,” she said. “It’s awful because nothing is certain right now.”

Not only did the class of 2020 miss its prom, grad night and commencement ceremonies, but many grads, like Beatrice Sarmiento, a senior at Live Oak, feel uncertain about what their tomorrows might bring as the pandemic changes the world of academics.

“COVID-19 has honestly stripped me and my fellow seniors away from our safety nets,” she said. “We were supposed to still have our second semester of high school to let loose at dances, prom, and graduation, and celebrate all of our accomplishments through award ceremonies and graduation. I feel like the class of 2020 is being forced to grow up too soon.”

Crystal Garcia, a senior at Sobrato, is one of the school’s cheer captains and volunteer coordinator for the California Scholarship Federation. COVID-19 has not only changed her last few semesters of high school but also her intentions for college.

“I’m really involved with my school and I really miss it,” she said. “My whole life was centered around after-school activities.”

Garcia was accepted by her two dream schools, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Southern California. She was “beyond excited” to be accepted into her two top-choice schools.  She ultimately decided to attend Cabrillo Community College in Aptos. The economic realities of facing a new future brought about by coronavirus forced her to reassess what she really wanted to do this fall.

“Financially, this is great,” she said about going to a less-expensive community college. “I feel good about it also because I want to advocate for others in my position. For a lot of us, our families’ financial dynamics are changing. A lot of students have had to make the decision not to go to their dream schools.”

Garcia also wanted a chance to reflect on her goals in life for career and personal growth. She believes the smaller classes offered at the local community college offer her more opportunities to discover that.

“I want to solidify what I really want to do,” she said.

Regarding missing out on the traditions of caps and gowns and other accessories of a commencement held at Sobrato High School’s athletic field, she does not feel neglected.

“As a class, we need to focus on educating ourselves about the current situation and being more understanding that this virus is not just something in our community, it’s worldwide,” she said. “I’m not saying we need to stop being upset about it, but just understand that everyone is trying to do their best in this situation. We’re all doing our best. We need to be working together.”

Molly Foster’s family represents one Morgan Hill household taking creative approaches to graduation. The Sobrato senior is president of the school’s Red Cross Club and competes on the swimming and water polo teams. Her step-sister, brother, and brother’s fiancee are also graduating this spring, but from college.

“We’re going to have a little ceremony at home,” she said. “We can take more time to celebrate as a family this way. On one hand, it’s a disappointment, but it’s kind of cool because as a class it’s something we’re all going through together.”

In a spirit of encouragement to her fellow 2020 graduates, she gives a “shoutout” to everybody for staying positive and being willing to sacrifice the small things in life, like graduation, in exchange for the big things, like people’s lives, their health, and their safety.

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