In person, with four attendees per graduate, and livestreamed for those not able to attend, the Class of 2021 entered Engel Field for the last time as Cougars on Friday night.
A cooling breeze helped make conditions favorable for the June 4 graduation at Escalon High School and the roughly 45-minute ceremony had plenty of high notes.
“This is a special event indeed,” high school principal Eric Simoni said in welcoming the crowd, offering thanks to the school board and administration for making sure students not only spent a good part of the year on campus but also had the opportunity for an in person graduation ceremony.
He also praised his staff for their efforts.
“You guys were flexible, innovative,” Simoni noted.
At the height of the pandemic last June, the Class of 2020 did not get a formal graduation ceremony; there was a drive-thru event at the high school but no opportunity to walk the stage and collect a diploma.
This year, the seniors had that chance and they seized it, in high spirits and with smiles all around.
“We appreciate all the love and support,” senior class president Briana Briones Chavarria said in her welcoming address.
She noted that she came to Escalon during her seventh grade year, so she didn’t share the same extensive history – from kindergarten on – that some of her classmates did, but said she was welcomed with open arms.
“Graduation is a huge milestone that we get to share together,” she said. “The most memorable moments came from the smallest things. Every day was filled with something new.”
School board member Nick Caton then announced the EUSD Certified Employee of the Year, the honor presented to Dent kindergarten teacher Jessica Towner.
Assistant principal Jason Furtado noted that there were 47 Honors graduates among the class and that the community provided $182,000 in local scholarships to dozens of seniors, presented at a June 2 ceremony.
Valedictorian Mikayla Egan was next to step to the podium and said the Class of 2021 got to celebrate a high point – the football team winning the state championship during their junior year – as well as the low point of the pandemic that brought life to a virtual standstill.
She pointed to her Opa – Dutch for grandfather – as being the biggest influence on her life and teaching her many lessons before he passed in March of her sophomore year. She took his stories to heart and said she finds herself recalling his wisdom often.
“I will continue to carry his lessons through my life,” she said. “We were unsure of what would come of our senior year … as we move into the next phase, there will be challenges … but work hard, persevere.”
Students and the audience then stood to join in singing the Alma Mater prior to the presentation of the class and the awarding of the diplomas.
School Board President John Largent, Vice President Nick Caton, Clerk Kate Powell and Richard Thompson were on hand to distribute the diplomas as the students were announced, one by one, and had the chance to walk across the stage posing for the official graduation photo before heading back to their seat.
“It has been an honor to be your principal,” Simoni told the class.
After the moving of the tassels, a few graduation caps were tossed into the air and then the crowd spilled out of the stands to join their graduates for hugs and family photos.
Several members of the graduating class returned to campus later in the evening to join together in the Sober Grad event. Look for the full story and photos from Sober Grad in the June 16 issue of The Times.