It was a week of both an ending and a beginning for seniors at Riverbank High School, culminating the school year, and a graduation of sorts, on Friday, May 22.
Where RHS underclassmen had completed their check out requirements earlier in the week, Friday, May 22, was dedicated to the Class of 2020, Riverbank's graduating seniors. They, too, had requirements to meet, and the morning was split up into groups by alphabetical order, so they could turn in books and other materials, sports uniforms and equipment, and clean out both sets of lockers.
Completing all necessary steps, the seniors, some in street clothes, some in their caps and gowns, received their diplomas from Riverbank Unified School District Superintendent Christine Facella. They also were given a campaign-style sign announcing the Class of 2020 to place in their yards.
Officials promised the seniors that they would receive the cases for their diplomas in the mail soon, and also be notified as soon as the yearbook was published and delivered. It had been delayed because the California factory where it would have been printed was closed by reaction to the pandemic, and all work, nationwide, for the company was moved to its Tennessee facility.
“The students were for the most part in good spirits and happy and their families were grateful for the efforts of the high school administrative team in planning the event,” stated Facella. “Of course it took many of the high school certificated and classified staff members to make it successful. We even made sure that students had a photo taken when receiving their diplomas on the off chance we are unable to do anything with an in person celebration later this summer.”
Many of the graduates also visited the school counseling department's table to collect whatever awards and other recognition was coming their way. Some received Academic Block Rs while others received scholarships or other recognition. Many took the opportunity to gather with friends, while others visited a display set up between buildings designed by school staff just for photo ops.
All morning, parents and cooks from Primo's Tacos, BBQ and Grill truck prepared food for the seniors, by the bus traffic circle on the north side of the campus. Nearing noon, the taco truck departed for its normal daytime location, just outside Jacob Myers Park.
“There are too many people to thank,” expressed RHS Principal Greg Diaz about the last day of school festivities. “But I would like to mention a few people: Monica Perez for raising the funds to supply each senior with a Class of 2020 yard sign, Ana Calderon, Primo’s Tacos for providing a free meal for every Riverbank High and Adelante High graduating senior, and to the amazing RHS faculty and staff. Like I said, there are really too many people to thank individually, but they know who they are, and they know that all of this wouldn’t have been possible without them.”
Later that evening, over at the Angelo Novi football stadium, graduates, their families and friends gathered to participate in the last 'Friday Night Lights' celebration of the month, put on by school officials. As things were getting underway, Principal Diaz, while announcing to the crowd the evening's events, that the district expected to pull together some kind of formal graduation ceremony when allowed to do so.
This time, since it was the final Friday Night, the district had a few special things to add.
Other Fridays in May, they had simply lit the stadium lights from 8 to 8:20 p.m. while playing music on the PA system.
Last week, in recognition of what would have been the normal, formal graduation ceremonies in the gym, a few features were added to the evening. After the lights were put out, about sunset, staff members played the slide show on a large outdoor screen set up in the northeast corner of the field, so viewers could crowd around the fences on Patterson Road and Central Avenue to get the best view.
Normally, the show would have been seen by senior class members gathered just ahead of Senior Sunset, usually held a week or two before graduation, the capstone of what was begun back in the fall when the class celebrated Senior Sunrise.
By the time the slide show was finished, sunset had transitioned to darkness, so the big finale was signaled.
After a three, two, one countdown, work lights shone on the huge 2020 numbers, firmly attached to the safety railing atop the press box above the west side stadium bleachers. And multi-colored smoke bombs were set off, also highlighted in the illumination.
News Reporter Virginia Still contributed to this story.