The weirdest senior year imaginable ended with a spirited send off Wednesday evening for the Dos Pueblos High School Class of 2020.
After being away from the school and doing distance learning since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the seniors got to drive through the campus in their cars decorated with balloons, tassels, streamers and painted messages and be together to celebrate a major milestone in their lives.
“The fact we’re all here together and finish together, I love that idea,” said ASB president Sarah Jang.
The parade ended in the student parking lot, where the hundreds of cars parked facing the Elings Performing Arts Center for the evening graduation ceremony.
“We got them all in,” said a proud Principal Bill Woodard as he looked out over the jam-packed lot.
The seniors were treated to student speeches from Jang, Carlotta Boromeo-Kendall and Ryan Kaldi, and video shout outs projected on the building wall from special guests: pop singer Katy Perry and folk rocker Jack Johnson, and Major League Baseball player James McCann.
McCann, a catcher for the Chicago White Sox, graduated from DP in 2008. Perry grew up in Goleta and attended the school before embarking on a music career.
Johnson’s wife, Kim, taught math there, and he made frequent visits to the campus, including an appearance at an assembly to play music.
The celebrities congratulated the graduates and praised them for enduring the adversity to make it through their final year of high school.
“You guys deserve an incredible celebration, and an incredible appreciation making it to the finish line during this time,” said Perry, who noted that she attended just one semester at DP as a freshman, but remembers the school fondly, noting, “there is a certain kind of magic there.”
She commended the accomplishments of the senior class.
“In a world of uncertainty, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” she said. “What we do know is that you are a high school graduate.
“Class of 2020, I know it’s bizarre, but you did it, baby. I’m so proud of you.”
McCann acknowledged the resiliency of the class.
“A lot of things have been taken from you this year, but that’s not what’s going to define the Class of 2020,” he said. “You may have missed out on senior activities, sports seasons — a special shout out to the seniors on the baseball team — a typical graduation, or even just the last few months together as a group.
“But the memories made before this global pandemic is what you’re going to remember most. Nothing can take away the relationships or the experiences you had along the way. And, for that, you’re blessed.”
He encouraged the graduates to “dream big, love your dream and live your dream,” and to remember this will always be home.
As he concluded, he declared, “Together, we are DP.”
Johnson, guitar in hand, opened like the start of a concert: “What’s up, Dos Pueblos Chargers?!”
He talked about his relationship with Dos Pueblos, often bringing lunch to his wife and helping set up and tear down classrooms.
“I got a lot of fond memories of hanging out on your campus,” he said. “I want to send a lot of love. I know it’s been a strange time, but also remember it’s a beautiful time because you can imagine a new world and you can go out there and create that world that you want to see.”
Johnson then broke into his song, “Home,” about remembering where you’re from.
The music and speeches from the podium and videos could be heard through car radios on 96.9 FM.
Water polo standout and Stanford-bound Ethan Parrish was thrilled to be graduating and impressed by how the ceremony came off.
“It’s crazy man. It’s actually absurd, especially in an atmosphere like this,” he said. “Katy Perry and Jack Johnson as your guest speakers… Can’t get better than that.
“I'm really exciting to see how this might change graduation for Dos Pueblos. This is amazing and it’s a great segue into my future.”
Ayslin Hernandez admitted she wasn't sure how the ceremony would turn out.
“Obviously, I'd like a traditional graduation, but the funny thing is this feels better because it's like one of a kind. The organization and dedication for this was amazing.”
Said Jang, who is headed to Cal, “Honestly I didn’t know what to expect, but coming here it’s been really amazing. I know this isn’t what we normally do, but I think it’s such a memorable way to commence our four years in high school. There is so much going on and it’s unique. I’m blown away, I don’t know what to say.”
Senior Class President Karina Dixon-Guron, the closing speaker, said the one-of-kind ceremony showed off the uniqueness of class.
“I think you can see the class' personality through this way. I definitely like this new improved way rather than the traditional.”
Speaking about her fellow graduates, “They are really one of the best,” Dixon-Guron said. “I'm the first African-American senior class president, and really this year I cannot see any other class go through what we've gone through. They're the best.”
She was excited that her 76-year-old great grandmother was in the car parked in the front row to watch her walk across the stage to receive her diploma.
“That's a blessing in itself,” she said.
As car horns blared, Woodard said it was a graduation like no other,
He told the graduates: “When somebody asks, ‘Hey what year did you graduate?’ You can proudly replay back, ‘2020’ and watch their faces light up with admiration.”