High schools to hold drive-thru graduations starting this week

Xavier Oyola stands with the sign showing him to be a member of the Twentynine Palms High School Class of 2020.

MORONGO  BASIN — Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms and Black Rock high school had to forgo plans for a regular graduation ceremony due to the novel coronavirus 2019 pandemic, but seniors across the Basin petitioned and fought for a celebration that they will remember for a lifetime.

The high schools will celebrate their class of 2020 with photos, signs, on-air celebrations and drive-thru graduations starting this week.

“I feel like this alternative is something we all appreciate and can get behind,” said senior Wildcat Taylor Fourier.

The Morongo Unified School District Board of Education heard ideas from high school students and principals at a special meeting Friday, May 15. The meeting was called after MUSD received public comments on the district’s former plan, which included partnering with Z107.7 to hold a graduation on the air.

The plan was well received by many but students and parents thought that it was missing the most important aspect of graduation: walking across the stage. They reached out on social media and with petitions asking the board to step in and create an alternative graduation plan. 

“We can do better than this,” said board member Karalee Hargrove. “We have to do better.”

Principals Justin Monical and Mike Ruggiero said at the meeting that, after hearing from their students, they were both working on plans for a drive-thru graduation ceremony that would give students the chance to walk across the stage at a scheduled time and maintain social distancing.

“The overwhelming sentiment of our students that we were getting on social media and our emails was they appreciated the Z107.7 proposal but they did not want to miss the chance to walk across the stage,” Ruggiero said.

Fourier and her fellow students were active in pushing for a graduation ceremony for their class. She noted that, while the class would still prefer to simply wait for a few months to have the normal ceremony, she understood that it wasn’t an option.

“I think everyone would push it back if they could but with the projections for the second wave of the coronavirus, if we push it back we might be in the same situation again,” Hargrove said.

Fourier and other students also noted that, since many students come from military families, pushing the ceremonies back could mean that the grads would no longer be in the Morongo Basin by the time the ceremonies were held.

Superintendent Tom Baumgarten told the board that the principals have the authority to plan the details of their drive-thru celebrations as long as they adhere to county and state guidelines.

“Safety first for all students,” Baumgarten said. “If they cn guarantee that, I have no problem with us working through.”

The drive-thru ceremonies will be held as follows:

•Black Rock High School will host its ceremony today and Thursday. Students will get their caps, gowns and tassels and will have their picture taken with Principal Jennifer Sands handing them their diploma cover while “Pomp and Circumstance” plays over the public address system.

•Yucca Valley High School will allow parents and graduates to walk Trojan Field and then accept diploma covers from Principal Justin Monical while a photographer takes pictures between 3 and 8 p.m. Thursday.

•Twentynine Palms High School will host drive-thru ceremonies May 28 and June 1. Grads’ families will drive them to the multipurpose room and the graduates will exit their vehicles and walk onto a stage where Principal Michael Ruggiero hand them their diploma covers while their families take photos from their cars.

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