While plans are being put in place for a traditional graduation – tentatively set for Saturday, Aug. 1 – the Class of 2020 at Escalon High School nonetheless got a celebratory sendoff on Friday, May 29.
On what would have been their graduation day, instead of marching into Engel Field to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, the EHS grads drove into the high school parking lot as music played and teachers, aides, counselors and administrators cheered them on.
“It’s sad but they deserve something,” said math teacher Shellie Legler, as she waved and shouted encouragement to her students. “They need a sendoff.”
Standing with Legler, hoisting signs of their own and cheering were paraprofessionals Angelica Ramirez and Margarita Flores, both bilingual aides. Ramirez graduated in 2000 from EHS and felt it was important to show support for this year’s seniors.
Each student coming through received a special gift bag that included a Class of 2020 T-shirt, notes from teachers, gift cards and more.
Also, each graduates received a yard sign to put up at home, any scholarship information and the coveted diploma, presented by Assistant Principal Jason Furtado with a smile and a handshake.
“A generous family donated T-shirts for all the students, with the ‘Cougar Pride Never Dies’ slogan and the names of all graduates,” explained Sara Villines, a teacher and the Student Leadership advisor. “They also got coupons for a free personal pizza from D’Boni’s and an ice cream from Hula’s, a Starbucks gift card, Cougar decals, lanyards, many got personal letters from teachers.”
The goal behind it all was to give the students some sort of personal sendoff and a districtwide celebration of their accomplishments, especially in the year of distance learning. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a halt to on campus classes in mid-March.
About 175 students were in the Class of 2020 and many wore their cap and gown to the drive thru ceremony, many also had their cars and trucks decorated.
“It’s so weird,” admitted Villines. “I hate that we have to do it like this but I’m really happy with the turnout.”
The district is making plans for a graduation ceremony on Aug. 1. Knowing that some students may already be gone for military service, college or the workforce by then, the decision was made for the drive thru event on graduation day.
Among those on hand to wave and support the students was longtime teacher and coach Roger Beeman, now retired.
“Well it had to be something special,” he said, noting that this year marked the 100th anniversary of Escalon High School. “It’s interesting how the school does involve the whole community.”
There were plenty of selfies being taken, graduates sharing smiles with teachers they haven’t seen in weeks … a feeling of excitement was the undercurrent for it all.
“It’s interesting, the way we’re finding solutions to the problems,” said graduate Angela Sellars-Simoes of the ceremony. “It’s memorable, definitely.”
“This is really kind, especially since we got everything taken away,” added graduate Anahi Murga, noting that the class lost out on prom, Disneyland and the final walk into Engel Field.
For Colton Panero, he admitted that it was hard the past couple of months to stay focused on schoolwork while not on campus, but he was happy that he and his classmates persevered.
“It’s pretty exciting and it just shows how cool our community is, they made it special,” he said of graduation day.
Assistant Principal Jason Furtado handed out the bulk of the diplomas and said he was satisfied with the way the event unfolded.
“I thought it was amazing, it was great to see the kids and it made it even more personable, having that one on one connection,” he said.
Principal Eric Simoni agreed that the drive thru graduation went well and he is anxious for the ‘real’ event in August but also pleased with the Friday ceremony.
“I think for what we have going on, this is going as well as it can,” he said. “The student and parents appreciated it, so do staff and administration, the parents have been great through all this and the students have been appreciative, there is just genuine appreciation.”