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Class Of 2020 Drive By Celebration Lifts Spirits
Riverbank High staff and administrators, including District Superintendent Christine Facella, greet graduating RHS seniors and their families during a drive-by distribution of caps and gowns on Friday, May 8. They were set up in front of the Administration Building to hand out the materials between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Ric McGinnis/The News
In addition to photos of the senior class of 2020 lining the fence of the RHS campus last Friday morning, RHS teachers and administrators decorated the fence line with inspirational posters, much like those used during rallies at the school. Ric McGinnis/The News

This past Friday, Riverbank High School seniors not only picked up their caps and gowns but also had a Senior Drive By Celebration. In such bleak times there was high energy and excitement at the high school with an immense effort by staff to lift the spirits of their 2020 senior class.

“I was so pleased with the event that Mr. (RHS Principal Greg) Diaz and his staff put together for the students,” stated Christine Facella, Riverbank Unified School District Superintendent. “From an administrative point of view, he took the challenge and ran with it, providing students with a memory for their senior year that was uplifting. While many of the traditional events have not been able to take place, we have tried to create new memories under these most challenging times.”

There were several teachers and administrative staff on the RHS campus that had pom poms, and signs, basically being cheerleaders as the students drove up to get their cap and gown. For those that were unable to attend the event on Friday, Diaz said they will try to accommodate them as best as they can.

“The feedback we have received both directly and indirectly has all been positive,” added Diaz. “I know the teachers and staff enjoyed seeing the students and each other after being relatively isolated the last two months. We all chose this profession because we like human interaction, so this has been a difficult time for everyone.”

As the cars drove up, school personnel greeted them with cheers, applause, and smiles. There was some music playing and vehicles that drove by on Claus Road noted the celebration as they would honk, especially the big rigs with their loud horns.

“The classified and certificated employees really came out to support the students and were also very good about social distancing in the process,” said Facella. “I am so proud to be a member of Riverbank Unified School District and have the chance to work with such great and caring individuals who really have the students’ needs at heart.”

The Senior Drive By Celebration was well received as staff lined the fence on Claus Road along with the poster size pictures of the RHS senior class of 2020. There were also signs along the fence with encouragement. As students, parents and the public drove by the celebrated seniors there would be positive comments, cheers and a lot of horns honking.

“The pictures came out great,” expressed Diaz. “Our yearbook teacher, Ms. Lopez, gathered the senior pictures and added each student’s name. Mr. Gianelli, graphic arts teacher, spent a few days formatting, printing and cutting them to size, our office team, Suzy Andalon, Donna Bigelow, and Eila Peterson spent a couple days laminating, hole punching, and alphabetizing them all, and Ms. Dressel supplied us with all the balloons.”

Over 30 staff members arrived before 7 a.m. on Friday morning, May 8 to set up the display and by 10 a.m. there were about 50 staff members present to honor the Class of 2020, he said.

Senior and student board member Jose Facio’s mother Lenette was excited to take her son’s picture home that day.

“Throughout this pandemic, as a parent I am very thankful that our school district and local officials are doing the best they can to demonstrate the love and support they have for our students,” Lenette stated. “We are praying that God gives us guidance and helps us during these hard times and lets us continue to support our RHS students, staff and officials. Go Bruins.”

Senior Abel Bravo has attended RHS all four years and played sports five to six days a week. Although it was a struggle in the beginning, missing friends and school, his mother Monica explained he has adjusted to the new schedule and has kept busy with work.

“I loved the senior video, the pictures on the fence, the drive by celebration and Friday night lights, this is a new experience for all,” she said. “The pictures were great. It was nice to see all the students being recognized. It was nice to see the yearbook picture for the first time. It was nice to finally get them (cap and gown), makes it seem more ‘real’ to him and me as a parent.”

“What we did on Friday was not by any means a replacement for what was taken away from them, but we had to show our seniors that although we may not be with them physically right now that we are still here for them,” said Diaz. “I’ll let you all decide on the aesthetics of the tribute fence, but one thing I can say without any doubt is that the RHS staff, our Bruin family, cares deeply about our students, and they proved that yet again Friday morning.”

With the school closures, canceled events including graduation ceremonies and the uncertainty that the pandemic has caused the question remains the same: will there be a graduation ceremony for the class of 2020?

“If possible in June or July RHS could have a traditional ceremony outside on the football field or the new gym before the students leave to college, military or whatever else they plan on doing after high school,” added Monica regarding an option for a graduation ceremony. “The students have worked so hard for their accomplishments during their high school years they deserve to be recognized. It's not just a certificate for them.”

Diaz explained that he would like to see a normal graduation but unfortunately due to the current guidelines it may not be possible. As state and county rules are in place and not allowing large gatherings as social distancing is still in effect.

“We know that we will more than likely have to make some adjustments, including pushing the date back from the originally scheduled May 22,” added Diaz. “With that said, I want the students, families, and community members to know that it is Riverbank Unified School District and Riverbank High School’s intention to hold a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 when we are allowed to do so.”

Riverbank High School created a tribute fence to their Class of 2020 in a way to show their support and understanding that their senior year has been nowhere near normal. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS
Enlarged photos of RHS seniors decorated the school’s chain link fence along Claus Road last Friday morning. Their teachers designed a drive-by celebration of the Class of 2020 to help recognize their achievements, in spite of the shortened class schedules this year and the implementation of distance learning. Ric McGinnis/The News