Carlmont’s Class of 2020 graduates virtually for the first time

Melina+Dimick+holds+up+a+%22Carlmont+Class+of+2020%22+yard+sign+and+cheers+as+her+family+drives+through+the+quad.

Rachel McCrea

Melina Dimick holds up a "Carlmont Class of 2020" yard sign and cheers as her family drives through the quad.

Students submitted their final projects and exams online, and the 2019-2020 school year came to a close. 

Twelfth-graders put on their caps and gowns and joined their family to tune in to their virtual graduation ceremony. They listened to their peers give speeches and waited anxiously to hear their names called. Finally, the senior class president, Rachel.Amir Chatman, told seniors to turn their tassels. 

And just like that, the Carlmont Class of 2020 had graduated. 

The COVID-19 pandemic uprooted people’s lives worldwide. It forced schools across the nation to rethink their traditional end-of-year ceremonies and celebrations. 

“We had to make the decision really early on because the [graduation ceremony] companies were saying ‘If you don’t commit to us, you won’t get the date you want,'” said Jim Kelly, Carlmont’s Associated Student Body (ASB) and leadership adviser. “We jumped on it, thinking ‘It’s not what we really wanted. But it would be better than not getting anything or having to wait a long time.'”

Seniors had mixed feelings about the virtual ceremony. Adrian Fernandez, a senior, said that he didn’t feel it truly captured the memorable experience that in-person graduation would have. On the other hand, another senior, Connor Rickson, preferred it.

“I’m glad that I didn’t have to sit through a four-hour ceremony, and this way, I could experience it with my family next to me, which was very nice,” Rickson said. 

Later in the day, graduates and their families were invited to participate in a car parade. Staff, ASB officers, and Carl Monty, the school mascot, cheered as decorated cars passed through the Carlmont quad. Students enjoyed the event but felt that nothing could replace the typical end to the year that comes with Prom and a graduation ceremony.

“It’s important to remember that we lost a multitude of things that can’t be replaced,” said Janelle Kwofie, a senior. “So no matter how fun the parade was, it won’t replace three months of school.”

Nancy Martin, a life skills, English, and drama teacher, said she missed the tradition of honoring her graduating 12th-graders in drama during the annual Advanced Drama Showcase. She also recognized that drama students lost their chance to perform this spring. 

“This has been a sad year for my drama seniors, especially,” Martin said. “There was no annual One-Act Festival, Spring Play, or Advanced Drama Showcase. These canceled shows added to the overall cancellations for seniors, including [in-person] Prom, senior picnic, senior recognition night, and of course, graduation. Many of my graduating seniors in drama I’ve had since they were freshmen, so this year was sad for me, especially since I hadn’t seen them in class since March.”

Chatman said she held onto hope for in-person graduation and worked with ASB officers to come up with ways to modify it. But, after talking to administrators, they realized that no version of an in-person ceremony was possible. As they worked on alternatives, the team hoped seniors would be able to have closure and see their teachers one more time.

“It initially started when the senior class officers came to me asking about doing a drive-by, goodbye kind of thing before the graduation,” Kelly said. “And then Principal Ralph Crame told me that he had been talking to our Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) president Michelle Kelley and that she had been bringing up the idea of doing a parade. And [we thought] we should combine the two.”

Gregg Patner, the administrative vice-principal for ninth and 11th grade, worked with Kelley on the modified graduation. Patner said that they wanted to celebrate seniors and their accomplishments, but safety was their priority. And according to Kelley, they made sure their plans were in line with the county’s health orders

“Kelley worked tirelessly with the Belmont community, city, and police to make this celebration a memorable event for Carlmont seniors,” said Mandy Gibbs, a parent volunteer. 

Kelley acknowledged that the idea was not what people expected of high school graduation. Still, Kelley thought it would allow students to make lasting memories and feel celebrated after graduating from Carlmont. Greta Foehr, an ASB senior class officer who helped make the car parade a reality, recognized that many people came together quickly to plan the event. 

“We had an amazing team of ASB students, administrators, and parents who were very motivated,” Foehr said. “[Kelly] was very supportive and helped us a lot in the process. We couldn’t have done any of it without him.” 

ASB President Joe Sison agreed that when people come together, it creates the power to do great things. 

“Community is an incredible thing,” Sison said. “I hope that this event showed the Carlmont students that there exists so much love, kindness, and passion on the local community level.”

As an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may have noticed that others have gained perspective and empathy. Fernandez’s mother, Ximena Castillo, hopes that students make the most of their situation. 

“I hope that the Class of 2020 will now understand the concept of ‘don’t take things for granted,'” Castillo said. “Making memories and taking opportunities are very valuable things that should be cherished!” 

Rickson agreed with Castillo, saying that future 12th-graders should have fun and do what they love during their senior year, no matter their situation. He reminded graduates that although they missed out on many end-of-year events, their experiences were unique and would become part of history. Chatman concurred and also expressed gratitude for her opportunity to lead the Class of 2020.

“It wasn’t the ending any of us anticipated but will remain one that will live in our memories forever,” Chatman said. “Serving as senior class president during such a memorable year in our lives was an honor.” 

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