CALEXICO — After Calexico High School closed its campus to physical classes in March, Calexico Unified School District administrators began working to navigate the graduation complications caused by the COVID pandemic.
Like all high schools in the county, Calexico officials knew they would do some level of virtual ceremony, but what and how would remain to be seen.
“It’s a bittersweet moment. As a principal, it’s heartbreaking and I am focusing on what we can control and being positive,” Calexico High Principal Gabrielle Williams-Ballesteros said of her feelings about a virtual graduation. “It was heartbreaking to record messages for the graduation inside Varner Gym.”
But getting the job done and the event planned was the task at hand, and there were things that needed to be decided, such as finding a suitable production company to create the digital presentation.
“It has been so much work. We looked at what was out (there) in terms of companies to create a digital graduation ceremony,” she said. “We made a decision to work with a company named Vego to create our digital graduation ceremony. They have made commercials and videos for ‘American Idol’ and I really like the quality of their product.”
The virtual graduation ceremony for Calexico’s graduating class of 2020 will be streamed online June 11. One week later, on June 18 and 19, “drive-through” graduation ceremonies will take place at Ward Field.
Calexico administrators will provide a code to enter the virtual event to all graduating seniors to attend the ceremony. The video will stream on the Calexico High website, the Calexico Unified School District site and on social media, Williams-Ballesteros said.
During the virtual event, selected students, administrators, and staff will address the graduates through pre-recorded messages. Williams-Ballesteros said she will announce the names of graduating students as their photographs appear.
Calexico Unified School District will provide a copy of the graduation ceremony for each graduating senior.
Williams-Ballesteros said it took two weeks to record the ceremony with only one individual recording at a time due to social distancing.
Calexico High students have had mixed emotions about having to graduate virtually. There were a series of Zoom meetings that occurred early in the process for parents and students in which some students voiced their displeasure, if even just among themselves.
“To do all four years of high school, it’s not what I was expecting. But I appreciate what our principal did to make up for what’s going on in the world,” senior Luis Gastelum said.
“I am more excited about the drive-through event, because it’s more like walking” in a commencement ceremony, Gastelum said.
The “drive-through” ceremony is still in the planning phase. Administrators do not have a specific time set for the event yet, but it will take place on the evenings of June 18 and 19 due to the number of students involved. Ward Field will be decorated, and a stage will be constructed for the event during which a select number of administrators will greet each senior at they walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
Students will don their cap and gown for the “drive-through” event and district staff will enforce social distancing. Graduates and one family member will drive their car through Ward Field. As each car approaches the stage, the student will step out of the vehicle and walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
“They are trying to do their best and they don’t have many options right now. We want more, but we have to live with it,” senior Emmanuel Serrano said.
There will be “no parties at all after graduation. It sucks, but with everything going on, it’s better not to.” Serrano said.
Williams-Ballesteros imparted a message for her students.
“I want to tell the class of 2020, I am so proud of you. I am proud of how you supported each other through messages on social media and your resilience, and I am proud to be your principal.”
Additionally, in an email to the Calexico Chronicle, district Public Information Officer Alejandra Limon said, “There will be no person-to-person contact during the ceremony. CUSD staff will not hand diplomas or any other items or shake graduates’ hands.”
Students will be allowed to remove their mask as they accept their diploma so a photo can be taken, which will later be provided to each student free of charge. The photographer taking the photo will stand a minimum of 10 feet from each graduate while taking the picture.
After having their picture taken, the graduate will leave the stage so the next student can accept their diploma. During the event, all participants will be required to wear face coverings. Family members will be required to stay in their vehicles throughout the entirety of the event.
Calexico Police Department will be present to ensure all social-distancing guidelines are followed and to assist in traffic flow throughout the ceremony.