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Hughson High School postpones graduation until Aug. 1
Maddy Keo
Katie Keo and David Zylstra with Hughson High School salutatorian Maddy Keo

If things were normal in 2020, seniors from Hughson High School's Class of 2020 would have received their diplomas on May 29. The coronavirus scare changed life globally and caused districts like Hughson to go to Plan B.

By an overwhelming margin, the 166 seniors in the small town voted to delay their commencement ceremony to Saturday, Aug. 1 in hopes that the state will have relaxed or discarded social distancing rules to allow for a more traditional ceremony.

Hughson Principal Loren Lighthall said the decision was entirely up to the seniors.

“As a staff, we started talking about it internally in March,” said Lighthall. “It was one of the first issues that came up when we had to close the campus. We started looking around at what other districts were doing and what would work best for the kids. Some of the seniors’ teachers said the kids wanted to wait, that they were strongly in favor of wanting to graduate together.”

The seniors already spent their final two months of high school learning remotely without in-person interaction with teachers and friends.

“They did a couple of polls on Instagram. The first one was like 91 percent to wait and the second was 89 percent. This is what the kids wanted. And Aug. 1 was about the latest we could reasonably wait because teachers come back on Aug. 6.  This way, families can plan ahead.”

Michael Morrett and Katelyn Gonzalez Solis are the Hughson High School Class of 2020 valedictorians thanks to their 4.25 grade-point averages. Maddy Keo, with a 4.20 GPA, is the salutatorian.

The structure of the postponed ceremony hasn’t been determined. Lighthall said a final decision on the format will be made by July 20 to give everyone time to prepare.

The four options are:

• A normal graduation with the students seated on the football and friends and family sitting together in the stands without social distancing;

• A modified ceremony that includes all graduates with appropriate spacing and up to two family members in the stands, with various seating configurations that keep people six feet apart;

• A traditional ceremony without any spectators but would be live-streamed and digitally recorded for online viewing;

• A virtual graduation with everything done remotely.

Because of summer heat, Lighthall said graduation may occur in morning or at night.

“We haven’t set a time. It will be weather dependent.”

Lighthall believes Hughson might alone in delaying graduation until the summer.

“To my knowledge, we are the only school that I know that is waiting,” he said. “Modesto, Turlock and Ceres schools are moving ahead this week and next with virtual or drive-through ceremonies.”

Lighthall said the school will do something next week for the Class of 2020 as part of what would have been Sober Grad Night.

“We’re going to go to each kid’s house and give them a gift and take a video. We can’t do everyone on May 29, so we’re going to do it over several nights.”

This will be the second consecutive year Lighthall has participated in a non-traditional graduation ceremony. Last spring he was principal of Paradise High School in Butte County which was annihilated by the Camp Fire. The seniors there participated in a graduation held months later. 

“That was a big deal because it was the first time the kids and their families had set foot on the campus since the fire. It was on the football field,” Lighthall recalled. “But this is different. The one thing about Paradise is the kids were able to congregate, even though we were holding classes somewhere else. Here, they haven’t been able to do that. In some ways, it’s even worse for them because teens are so friends-centric. This has been real tough for kids because they can’t congregate. They need their friends and school is where they usually see them.”

Michael Morrett
Hughson High Co-valedictorian Michael Morrett
Katelyn Gonzalez Solis
Co-valedictorian Katelyn Gonzalez Solis