No one can magically give the Class of 2020 a hug from their parents after walking across the graduation stage. No one can give those parents the pictures from before prom. No one can turn everything around from strange to normal.
However, the Long Beach Unified School District high schools will try to at least send those families a positive message on Friday night by turning campus lights back on for 20 minutes.
“When the lamp is on you know someone is there,” Lakewood Assistant Principal Chris Thompson said about turning the John Ford Stadium lights on for 20 minutes last Friday. He was motivated by seeing other schools doing the same, and now all of the LBUSD will participate this week.
“We want to remind the kids that we’re still here and we’re still busting our butts for them,” Thompson said. “We’re going to go out of our way to do anything we can to recognize, not just our seniors, but for all of our students for as long as this lasts.”
On Friday at 8:20 p.m. (or 20:20 military time) the football stadium lights will be turned on for 20 minutes at Lakewood, Long Beach Poly, Jordan and Cabrillo. Wilson will turn its gym lights on in recognition. Millikan’s DeHaven Stadium is under construction, so they’re planning to display something on Palo Verde Ave.
“We’re trying to let them know that all is not lost, and they’re not forgotten,” Lakewood Athletic Director Mike Wadley said. He and Thompson also filled the scoreboard at Lakewood with numbers “2020” last week.
“I hate to be cliche but we’re trying to be a light in these dark times,” Long Beach Poly Athletics Director Rob Shock said. He said Poly also will be hanging a sign on the football field fence with the hashtag #WeAreInThisTogether prominently displayed.
“We’re just trying to break up all of the stuff that’s going on and do something positive,” Shock said. “It’s difficult for everybody and we just want to give recognition to our kids who just deserve something. It sucks. Just think about the second semester of your senior year and think about what it meant to you.”
“So many of them are so bummed out about what their senior year looks like, and the parents are bummed out too,” Thompson said. “So what are we going to do? Rather than sit around and wait, we wanted to get a jump on things.”
After posting pictures and video online with the bright lights in the background, Thompson and Wadley were flooded with a variety of responses from students and teachers.
Lakewood assistant baseball coach John Yakel lives in the neighborhood surrounding Lakewood High, and was on a walk with his wife when he saw the lights on at school. His first reaction was an honest one.
“As a coach, you’re stuck at home and you’re doing everything you can to not think about baseball and the kids,” Yakel said. “To see (the lights on) kind of brought it back that we’re not doing what we want to do. I know I’m not going to be on the field with our seniors again.”
Yakel added that he hopes LBUSD spring student-athletes can look at the Friday night lights and feel some sort of fulfillment.
“A lot of kids today get caught up defining themselves by what they do on the field,” Yakel said. “Hopefully what they recognize is that it’s them as people that we care about, not just their ability. Their success in life is more valuable. No one has forgotten about them because they’re not on the field. That doesn’t make them any less important to us.”
Most schools plan on continuing this new tradition for the rest of the month, and Shock said Poly will also be turning on the lights in other rooms on campus to honor students who perform and learn in the auditorium and choir room, for example.
The LBUSD is also relying on the high school activities directors to put together a list of options for some type of graduation ceremony. They are meeting twice a week and there could be a decision by mid to late May. Almost everyone involved agrees that something has to be done, even if that means postponing it until after the summer.
“We have to consider the number of students who are graduating,” Shock said. “So to find facilities to coordinate, that is something we have to take into consideration.”
Some LBUSD families started a petition at Change.org that explained why they didn’t want any type of “virtual” graduation, and that a postponed ceremony would be agreeable.
A portion of the petition reads, “This momentous occasion cannot be replicated through virtual means. One of the main reasons for this is because not everyone has access to the technology or internet required for a virtual graduation. This would pose a barrier for low-income students who do not have access to these materials… Rather than allowing coronavirus to dictate the end of these students’ high school careers, the postponement of graduation would provide hope and a proper sense of closure. It would also allow seniors to come together one last time before ultimately moving on to the next part of their lives… We are not requesting any specific date, as we understand the state of the pandemic is unpredictable and always changing. We are simply asking that the graduation be postponed to the next plausible and safe future date.”