It will be good when we get to write about something that isn’t connected to COVID-19.
Try as we might, nearly every story we are covering these days has some affiliation with the pandemic. Whether it’s a drive thru graduation, a postponement – or flat out cancellation – of an event, coronavirus has changed the way we in the newspaper do our business.
The last couple of weeks that has been so apparent; no traditional graduation ceremonies to cover, no ‘last days of school’ photos of kids with their yearbooks, no coverage of Memorial Day services. You would think by now we would be used to it but I must admit, it has only gotten harder.
Friday evening, May 29 would have been the Escalon High School graduation on Engel Field at Memorial Stadium, followed later that night (and all night) by the annual Sober Grad party for the Class of 2020. I can’t tell you the last time I haven’t covered those events and for the last several years I also have volunteered at Sober Grad. These are kids I have covered literally their entire lives, from that first year of kindergarten all the way through to this final senior year. We’ve been through a lot together; small town papers are pretty special in that way, you are truly a part of the community. Not only do you cover the schools, typically you are friends with some of the teachers and you watch the kids grow and mature, share their successes and feel for their losses. While I handle the bulk of the Escalon coverage, the same scenario holds for our Oakdale and Riverbank papers; graduation day for seniors in those communities looked vastly different as well.
Escalon did a ‘drive thru’ graduation on Friday morning; nearly every senior turned out to drive through the parking lot in front of the high school, cheered on by teachers and congratulated by the administration. They picked up their diplomas, yard signs and any scholarship awards, as well as having the chance to visit with and thank the teachers that have helped them reach this point. Social distancing was pretty much adhered to and masks were utilized by many; such a surreal way to end a high school career. EHS is planning for an in person ceremony on Aug. 1, hopefully that comes to fruition. For me personally, it was great to see so many familiar faces and visit with a handful of the kids as they rolled on through. With one, I commiserated about the San Jose Sharks’ season really being over since they won’t make the expanded playoffs if and when they do happen … with another I marveled over how memorable the year was, even before COVID, especially with the section title for volleyball and the state championship for football.
As hard as it is to not celebrate graduation for the high school seniors in all our communities in the traditional sense, it buoys my spirit to see how well they adapted and they definitely own a unique piece of history.
Memorial Day was another different experience; many years I went from the solemn ceremony at Burwood Cemetery to a Section baseball game … neither one happened this year. I was able to view the flyover of a huge HC-130J Combat King II aircraft at Oak Valley Hospital that day, though, a tribute to the frontline health care workers and that was definitely a feel good event.
There are positive things happening; people stepping up to help those in need, finding ways to mark special occasions in memorable ways, and now with some restrictions loosening up maybe there’s a little bit of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I know we aren’t going back to where we were before and it’s hard to say what our new ‘normal’ will look like. I guess we will just have to figure it out when we get there.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.