After the disappointment of missing many senior year milestones due to COVID-19, the Class of 2020 got a little bit of happy news on Wednesday: In an email to the families of PHS seniors, Principal Adam Littlefield announced that the 2020 commencement ceremony will go forward in real life at Witter Field on Friday, May 29, but with a series of modifications to comply with public health guidelines.
According to the email, the day will consist of four small ceremonies each lasting roughly 60 minutes in length beginning at 1:30 p.m. The other ceremonies will be held at 2:45 p.m., 4:00 p.m., and 5:15 p.m. There will be up to 60 students allowed per ceremony, and students will be allowed to invite two guests (household inhabitants) who will join the senior at a pre-ceremony designated location and escort the senior throughout the ceremony. Students may opt out of the ceremony.
ASB President Jace Porter told the Exedra that from what she’s heard, students are happy with the plans. “We are thankful for the opportunity to see some of our classmate’s faces in person rather than on a screen, which is something we have gotten used to from these past few months. Also the tradition of crossing Witter field is very sentimental to each senior and these new graduation plans give each student the opportunity to find closure in their high school careers in a semi-traditional way.”
Senior Becky Isaac told the Exedra that “I feel very grateful to have this opportunity to walk across Witter field with a cap and gown because I know many seniors will not get an in-person graduation. I am also very thankful to not only the administration for putting this together, but for the seniors in ASB for helping make sure that all of our voices would still be heard while we are at home.”
School administrators, city officials, and parents of graduating seniors have been pulling out all the stops to make the final months of school as much of a celebration as possible. “We have been coordinating a number of activities for the PHS / MHS Class of 2020 — lawn signs, care packages, Senior Saturday challenges and more,” senior class parent representative Alexandra Manolis told the Exedra. “Working with the administration, city leadership, and ASB leadership we have attempted to bring a feeling of celebration to the graduates and to the community who has supported them.”
Erin Brayer, who, along with Manolis and Noelle Tsukahara, is a senior class parent rep, described the “Road to Graduation” campaign that propelled them forward during SIP. After the shutdown went into place, the parent organizing committees worked to recoup deposits from Senior Night and Prom locations and to redirect their plans toward SIP-compliant activities.
She said Senior Saturdays kicked off with the lawn sign drop, followed by four consecutive Saturday challenges created by ASB (create a video montage, recreate your favorite childhood snack or meal, make something you’ll take to college, recreate a childhood picture, and cap decorating), then a care package delivered to all seniors’ homes containing prom invites, a Class Anthem written by Doug Ireland, Jamba Juice gift cards, and class-color themed trinkets and candies.
According to Manolis and Brayer, the celebratory items and deliveries to all 206 graduates have come at no cost to the students. The PHS Parent Club provided some funding and they were able to get 95% of their deposits on cancelled events returned. Parent volunteers across grade levels stepped up to help with coordination and deliveries.
On Monday, May 25, the Community Center parking lot will become the “Senior Zone”, a drive-through rally event for students to pick up bags containing a cap, gown, a personalized letter from a teacher, Honors tassels for those who earned this distinction. MHS students will receive their yearbooks; PHS yearbooks are delayed due to plant shutdowns related to COVID-19.
Brayer highlighted that fact that, in addition to parents, the Monday event will be staffed by 18 PHS and MHS teachers who are giving over their own holiday to celebrate the graduates. PHS Principal Adam Littlefield and MHS Principal Shannon Fierro are working the full event.
Other events in the works for next week include a virtual concert by Cole and Max Becker of the band SWMRS and a senior class slideshow created by Steve Zellerbach and Katie Colbert.
The “Road to Graduation” was of necessity a city-school collaboration. Brayer lauded ASB students and high school and city leaders for going the extra mile to honor the 2020 graduates. “PHS Principal Adam Littlefield has been exceptional — his patience and commitment to these kids is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. He listened to the kids and did everything he could to see their passions realized.” Brayer said. She also highlighted Assistant Principals Erin Igoe and Irma Munoz for their “amazing” contributions, PEF’s Heather Meil for helping with communication and City Manager Sara Lillevand, Public Works Director Chester Nakahara, Recreation Department Director Chelle Putzer, and Police Chief Jeremy Bowers for their help in navigating SIP restrictions to create a meaningful senior celebration. Mulberry’s Market owners Laura Pochop and Chad Olcott also donated gift cards to the entire graduating class, who entered school the year Mulberry’s opened.
Jace Porter says the senior class appreciates the efforts large and small to recognize them. “From the sign that the Piedmont police put up congratulating us on our graduation, to the senior recognition wall, to the little congrats that strangers say when passing our houses and seeing our grad signs in our front yard means a lot to us and we are just thankful to have a community that has worked hard to make us feel special.”
*IRL= in real life