The Class of 2020 for the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District had an “unconventional but no less significant or commendable” end to to their high school careers, as one graduate so aptly put it.
Three campuses held drive-through graduation ceremonies on Friday in the wake of the public health orders related to COVID-19.
“We've never done anything like this, and I don't know that we'll ever do this again,” said district Superintendent Antonio Garcia, who began that job in January. “This could be the only time we ever do graduation in this way.
“Certainly, the staff has been working really hard to try to make this as special as possible given the restrictions and the circumstances.”
In Orcutt, Righetti High School had 503 members in the class of 2020. Ian Tosches was named valedictorian, and the salutatorian was Bridget Lee.
Noting the unconventional end but still important milestone, Tosches said some Class of 2020 members may be disappointed at how their senior year finished and worry their accomplishments won’t receive recognition.
“However, our successes are real, our accomplishments are our own, and these cannot be devalued on the basis of being unable to celebrate them in person,” he said.
While the public health orders prevented traditional graduations, school officials tried to maintain as much normalcy as possible with online videos for speeches and staff on hand Friday to cheer their accomplishments.
“You can’t control a global pandemic,” Righetti Principal Karen Rotondi said. “But you can control how you take your experiences and use them to push yourself harder, pursue your dreams with more vigor, or develop a new level of compassion for those who suffer. You are resilient.”
A steady stream of vehicles, many decorated in various ways, rolled through the campuses Friday for drive-through commencements.
Some graduation traditions — air horns, leis and parents armed with cameras — could be found at the ceremonies. Other features, such as beach balls illicitly batted about by graduates, were missing.
At the northeast end of Santa Maria, Pioneer Valley High School’s Class of 2020 had 620 candidates, with valedictorian Naomi Mau becoming the third in her family to earn the title. Damian Magana earned the title of salutatorian.
The school's 14th graduation ceremony honored “the class that won’t be forgotten” with an online series of speeches in addition to the procession.
Principal Shanda Herrera said even those who did not enjoy school missed the daily routine and distinctive cafeteria smell each morning.
“I hope that you have learned about yourself through this experience. What I know I have learned is that you students are what inspire me and strengthen me daily,” she said.
“Class of 2020, you will persevere and this is a part of your story,” the principal said.
For its 127th commencement, Santa Maria High School had 591 members in the Class of 2020, which had Cristian Ramirez Morales as valedictorian and Isaac Ochoa as salutatorian. Both plan to attend UCLA.
Principal Steve Campbell expressed pride in the seniors making up the Class of 2020.
“Other years, I would stand up here and tell you, ‘Seniors, go out and change the world.’ But this year, this senior class has already done that. Your actions this spring have saved lives,” Campbell said.
“In my eyes, this year’s senior class has already made their mark in history. And you, you are all heroes in my book,” he added.
— 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.