Decked out in caps, gowns and masks, St. Joseph High School graduates scrambled to find their seats to the familiar tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” during the unique socially distant commencement Saturday evening.
The private Catholic high school in Orcutt, with 91 seniors in its class of 2020, held its 53rd graduation ceremony at Dean Teixeira’s ranch on Dominion Road. The search for seats, instead of a precise procession, provided a fitting end to the chaotic months that followed the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Principal Erinn Dougherty noted that the class of 2020 completed senior courses under a scenario “unforeseen and unimaginable” just three months ago.
“As a class you have been challenged with an altered academic and extracurricular landscape,” she said. “Not only have you adapted to an ever-changing environment fraught with uncertainty and associated fears, you have thrived under extraordinary pressure, unprecedented on a mass scale in modern times.
“We are truly blessed to have this class of Knights represent our beloved St. Joe’s in a year that will be highlighted in the history books.”
To comply with public health orders, the school held a modified drive-in graduation using the ranch’s amphitheater floor.
Parents and families remained in parked vehicles while graduates relocated to chairs — spread out for social distancing purposes — in front of two large screens where a pre-recorded ceremony was displayed.
Near the end of the ceremony, graduates completed the familiar walk to receive diploma covers, with class members applauding and families honking car horns or air horns. Some graduates arrived with lap blankets to ward off the brisk wind.
“Our time here at St. Joseph has been unforgettable,” said Regina “Gina” Rigali, the senior class president. “It was here that we met amazing people, learned to work hard and image Christ in mind, heart, body and soul.”
She observed that theirs was the first senior class to wear uniforms, do online learning, hold a socially distant graduation — “and to successfully pull off a three-month senior ditch day.”
“Not getting to spend these last few months of our time at St. Joseph High School together was no doubt unexpected and heartbreaking,” said Rigali, the last of six siblings to graduate from the school. “But we have learned through these tough times and made each other stronger. We have stayed positive and we have grown.”
Other speakers included co-salutatorians Henry Adam and Jacob Galloway, and valedictorians Sammi Morinini and Chancellor Roach, whose U.S. Air Force Academy appointment was announced during the ceremony.
Several students united for a musical interlude before solo performances by Julia Galloway and Jacquelyn Mengel.
Katelyn Murray was revealed as the recipient of the Class of 2020 Most Valuable Knight Award, recognizing the graduate who best exemplifies what it means to image Christ in mind, heart, body and soul, according to the presentation.
“Graduation is usually a time of closure,” Dougherty told the newest alumni of the school, which was founded in 1964. “But this year, in some ways, things seem unfinished, and while our hearts break for all our seniors have lost tonight, we celebrate all we have.
“We have each other. We have our families. We have our school community.”
Click here to view the pre-recorded video, and click here to view a video of Saturday’s ceremony.
While larger North County high schools held drive-through graduations, St. Joseph was one of two — Orcutt Academy High School was the other — with smaller graduating classes to employ a drive-in ceremony.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.