Academy of the Canyons Middle College (AOC) High School principal Dr. Pete Getz slowly stopped outside his final dropoff. With his daughter in the driver’s seat, Dr. Getz tightened his face mask and double-checked the address before stepping out into the barren Canyon Country street. Setting a graduation cap, gown, and tassel on an AOC senior’s welcome mat, he rang the doorbell and quickly shuffled back to his car in a pandemic version of ding dong ditch.
A once-bustling school campus, AOC now holds dozens of honor cords and graduation stoles waiting for pickup, but Getz knows that some students can’t or simply won’t.
“I would personally deliver 101 of them if I had too. It’s that important. We do what we gotta do as we always have.”AOC Principal Dr. Pete Getz
On May 1, 101 AOC seniors received an email announcing plans for a pre-recorded virtual graduation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
West Ranch High School, notorious for its quality multimedia program, will then edit the videos to be released on June 6, AOC’s original 2020 graduation date.
While district officials plan to host in-person graduations at a later time, AOC students already voiced their opposition to the new graduation plan.
In the email, AOC history teacher Dr. Robert Walker instructed seniors to submit a 15-second video throwing their caps, saying their speeches, and symbolically moving their tassels from left to right.
Third-party businesses offered to create AOC’s virtual graduation, but coordinators were stunned by prices which ranged from $6,700 to $16,000.
Dr. Walker thankfully negotiated with Jennifer Overdevest, West Ranch High School’s video production teacher, who now offered to donate their media expertise at no expense.
In a video also released on May 1, Hart District Public Relations Officer Dave Caldwell interviewed Superintendent Mike Khulman about the district’s approaches towards virtual graduations.
Khulman sympathized with the class of 2020: “Graduation is a special and important time, it’s a time for laughter and tears, and pictures, and family members… Those of us who have been a part of your journey through the Hart District also feel a sense of loss.”
AOC student government president Tobias Yang praised the administration’s response and championed the plan as one of the five senior representatives to district meetings.
“Obviously nothing could replace our graduation, but I appreciate the efforts made to provide for us an opportunity to celebrate despite the difficult situation we’re in” Yang noted.
With video submissions ending on May 18, AOC seniors are currently waiting for their graduation stoles and honor cords before recording.
Behind the scenes, Overdevest has been coordinating with 16 of her 45 West Ranch TV (WRTV) students. WRTV is now set to help West Ranch, Bowman, and AOC graduations.
With over 766 expected submissions, WRTV editor Madyson Martin is optimistic and ready to dig deep with a five-year shovel of editing experience.
“It is a lot of work and it’s going to take me a long time, but it’s going to be worth it,” Martin affirmed.
WRTV graphics designer Christopher Woodland is also in the trenches alongside his 12 teammates using the Hart District’s free Adobe Creative Cloud access.
Overdevest is proud of her students who will receive no compensation for producing high-quality graduation videos.
“My daughter graduated in 2018 and I was fortunate to go to her graduation and it’s heartbreaking. My students have done amazing work.”West Ranch Video Production Teacher Jennifer Overdevest
Since the announcement, AOC seniors have debated over a virtual graduation with different preferences and criticisms.
AOC staff selected five seniors as district representatives. Katie Ticas, one of the five, voiced extreme criticism of the plan.
“I wish it was more creative instead of the ‘smile at the camera wait 15 seconds turn around’ thing,” Ticas said. “No one wants to watch a long video of everyone throwing their caps and I get that they’re trying to make it better for us but they are also not listening.”
Future graduations will be held in the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center (PAC) leaving the class of 2020 feeling historic yet sorrowful. Many seniors had eagerly planned to graduate in the $18.3 million venue with its air conditioning and 886 seats.
AOC senior Kusal Uprety heaved a sigh when he discovered that the baby picture slideshow normally presented at the AOC senior dance was being edited into the graduation video instead.
“I get the intentions and my parents might force me to but if I can, I won’t,” said Uprety. “It’s a waste of time and the intentions are good but I’d literally prefer no graduation to this.”
Furthermore, an unofficial poll on the AOC student government’s Instagram page revealed that 84% responded “No” when asked about graduation.
Other students such as Alexandra Rice, a member of the AOC Social Emotional Learning advocacy group, show disinterest in the new graduation plans.
“Honestly, I think I’m just genuinely gonna forget,” commented Rice.
Khulman addressed the opposition stating that “we respect and understand everyone’s decision in this regard, but given that you now know that we are open to a delayed on-site graduation, I encourage you to keep an open mind.”
Noting that some students won’t be in California in the fall, Overdevest defended the plan as a ceremony dedicated to all who have invested time, money, and energy into the class of 2020.
“The district is trying to do the best that they can and you’re only hurting yourself since this is more so for the parents than the students,” Overdevest said.
After observing the controversy, Dr. Getz gave a final statement: “We as a staff want closure too and we want to see you and right now we aren’t going to get to do that… In 10 years from now or 20 years from now, when we look back at this, we can say that we at least did it.”
Inderjeet Gawra also contributed to this story.