Grisela Macias (from left), Michelle Rodriguez and Araceli Flores distribute caps and gowns May 1 to graduating seniors at Gonzales High School. (Photo by Michael Ramirez)

SALINAS VALLEY — High school graduations across the country have been impacted by the shelter-in-place orders resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, and although local schools will not have their June ceremonies as in past years, most have come up with different plans.

South Monterey County Joint Union High School District has announced late summer rescheduling of their campus graduations.

Portola-Butler Continuation High School and Pinnacle Academy students will graduate on July 30. King City High School’s graduation will take place July 31, while Greenfield High School seniors will commence their journey’s completion on Aug. 1.

In Soledad, the district is currently exploring options for both high school graduates and middle school promotions. Principals are coordinating with the district to figure out how to recognize student achievement but also maintain safety.

Gonzales is also seeking out options, with the Gonzales Youth Commissioners looking into what can be done, with the hopes that a summertime graduation ceremony can still take place.

“Until that occurs, we are featuring tweets announcing the colleges/military branch our students are attending; placing the order for the new banners, which will hang in the City of Gonzales; formatting lawn signs featuring our graduates, which they can proudly display outside their home or in a window; and participating in opportunities via the media,” said Gonzales High School Superintendent Yvette Irving.

Gonzales High School distributed pre-purchased caps and gowns to seniors on May 1, while the campus has no physical graduation date determined.

With the summer being an uncertainty for possible extensions of shelter-in-place and social-distancing orders, even the SMCJUSD has stated it will review the July and August ceremonies for a possible change in plans on July 1.

Rather than wait for a date that hangs in limbo, parents, teachers and residents in South Monterey County have begun to recognize area seniors.

In Greenfield, Councilmember Yanely Martinez has used her Facebook page to highlight the city’s graduating seniors with regular spotlights and photos.

Adoption programs have been set up through Facebook for graduates at King City High, Portola-Butler and Pinnacle Academy.

For Pinnacle and Portola-Butler graduates, parents can post a photo and highlight information about their senior. Someone from the community can then adopt them and get in contact with the parents in order to send gifts to the graduate. Finally, the senior’s family posts an update showing the graduate with their gifts, all as a way to celebrate the student’s shift from high school toward their future.

A similar graduate adoption program has started for King City High seniors, also being run through Facebook posts. There, parents post their child’s photo and a small bio along with future goals. Community members can then adopt that senior and send them cards, letters of encouragement, gifts and flowers, while keeping everything budget-friendly.

“We just want to give the kids a bit of joy and something to look forward to this next month or so,” said Dawn Marie Johnson-Owens, the organizer of the KCHS adopt-a-grad program.

Last weekend, more than 60 seniors had been adopted out of the graduating class of 256, and that came after less than a week of operation.

“I want to try and get every single graduate on the page so they all have a chance to be adopted by someone,” Johnson-Owens said. “I do not have a senior this year, but both my husband and I are graduates of KCHS and two of our daughters also graduated from here in 2010 and 2017.”

Johnson-Owens has another daughter who is currently a junior at KCHS.

“Seeing what my junior child is going through with missing out on sports, the fair, FFA and being with her friends is hard enough, I can only imagine what all these seniors are feeling by missing out on the rest of their year, so many activities and events that are all once in a lifetime that they won’t be able to attend,” she said.

The idea for KCHS came from a Las Vegas high school that put on a similar adoption system.

For KCHS graduates, Johnson-Owens said no one posted will be left out, as they have donors who will make sure everyone is adopted.

“The amount of responses we have received in this short time has been amazing, the people of our small community go above and beyond for the youth of our town and it is heartwarming,” Johnson-Owens said. “I have heard great things from the parents about the page, tons of thank you’s from everyone. None of us have gone through something like this before.”

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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