Instead of cowbells, it was the honking of decorated vehicles that announced the graduating class of Granite Hills High School.
Whiteboards lined Putnam Avenue and Grizzly Drive signifying that the Class of 2020 was in for a unique ceremony at Wednesday’s drive-thru graduation.
“Stop,” read one sign. “Graduates, get out of the car here. Keep your distance. Parents follow your graduate in your car.”
In an attempt to keep many of the traditional aspects of graduation ceremonies alive, students did their ceremonial walk up a slight hill towards the front office where GHHS teacher, Richard Flores, announced their names before they picked up their diploma covers from GHHS principal Apolinar Marroquin, then had their pictures taken by Generations Photography.
“It’s not an ideal way to end the year and send off our seniors but anything we can give them at this point to kind of end the year, bring some closer to an educational K-12 year,” Marroquin said. “We’re just proud that teachers are rallying, the community is being patient, and our students, I hope understand that we’re giving them, not what they probably deserve, but we’re giving them something to show that we appreciate all their hard work.”
The Grizzlies did their best to keep everything traditional while at the same time allowing students to make the most of their special day.
Shane Christie, the Grizzlies’ lone wrestler to qualify for both the Valley and State championships, took advantage of the relaxed graduation and donned a wrestling belt carrying his weeks-old Chihuahua, Bubbles.
“Since she’s so small, I was just like, she’s going to go with me,” Christie said. “So I got her ready and brought her.”
With students doing virtual learning since mid-March when the coronavirus became a pandemic, Christie and many others missed out on making memories in their last year.
“I haven’t been doing much,” he said. “I thought it kind of sucked that we didn’t get to have our last days of schools and everything. But I’ve just been working, staying home and that’s it. I’d rather been in school.”
Porterville Unified School District superintendent, Nate Nelson, came out to support the graduates and said he understood how difficult things were for the graduates but was glad to see the way the community and staff came together for the students.
“You just feel awful for all the experiences, it’s just one piece that they missed out on,” Nelson said. “I’m really proud of our staff rallying and trying to make it. You can see the kind of enthusiasm, we got a veteran over multiple decades standing out in the sun with a mask, covered, doing everything he can to show these students how important they are to us and how special this is for them.
“You hurt for the students and want all their families to be able to enjoy this moment but I think they’ve done a great job of pulling everything together to make it special for the kids. I hope they appreciate that.”
As graduates finished taking pictures with Generations, they exited by way of Grizzly Drive with some jumping out once again to take just one more photo in their cardinal red caps and gowns before being ushered along. And just before they exited the campus, dozens of Granite Hills staff cheered one last time for this special group of seniors.
“It’s such a unique situation that I want them to know that if they can find joy in anything, even though they’re going through what they’re going through, it’s terrible, but find joy in the fact that it’s unique,” GHHS assistant principal, Kim Ramirez, said. “And we’re still going to celebrate them, we’re still extremely proud of them. Their accomplishment is beyond a lot of what they’ve done in their entire life. So we just want to celebrate them.”
In the uniqueness of the drive-thru graduation ceremony, one GHHS figure did stand out.
Helping to direct the cars in the 100-plus degree heat was GHHS teacher Rich Lambie. Lambie was the lone Grizzlies’ staff member to wear the traditional gown — along with a Spider-Man face mask — in the blazing heat. It was his small tribute to the seniors.
“It means a lot to the kids,” Lambie said about choosing to wear his black gown. “I’ve been teaching for 43 years and this is probably my 35th graduation. It’s a unique situation but traditions important.”
A big piece missing from the graduation were the speeches from valedictorians Elise Ormande, Noah De La Pena and Matthew Banuelos. The trio recorded them last week and along with speeches by Senior Class President Eric Madrigal, Associated Student Body President Sonia Yanez and Marroquin, will have them made into a virtual graduation video by PUSD to be posted on YouTube on Friday, June 12 at 7:30 p.m.