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Clovis Unified Is Buying A Gown for Each Senior in Class of 2020

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Clovis Unified School District, determined that members of the Class of 2020 will have a “first class” graduation experience, is buying gowns for each graduating senior and planning several commencement ceremonies for them.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to mass gatherings, the district won’t schedule any of the traditional commencement ceremonies typically held in late May and early June.

Students will still get a chance to walk across the stage, shake their principal’s hand, receive their diploma, all within sight of their proud family.

But they’ll be doing it one at a time.

Portrait of Clovis Unified Superintendent Eimear O'Farrell

“It just pains us not to be able to do these things.” — CUSD Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell

Clovis Unified’s plans for the Class of 2020 were outlined Friday afternoon in a Facebook Live session featuring Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell and the district’s seven high school principals.

Traditions Important For Clovis Unified

The loss of activities that Clovis Unified seniors typically enjoy is being keenly felt.

The high school graduation is itself a significant milestone for Clovis Unified seniors, but they also traditionally engage in a long list of activities that make their graduation even more memorable.

O’Farrell and the principals said they know how important all the traditions are to Clovis Unified graduates and their families.

“It just pains us not to be able to do these things,” she said.

‘Big’ Graduation Later in Summer

In addition to the “individual” graduations, the district is hopeful about a large-scale event in the week of Aug. 10 and has reserved a venue. Whether the event can be held will depend on the advice of county health officials, she said.

Holding a ceremony for all seniors will give them and their families the opportunity to celebrate together, which O’Farrell said was the No. 1 priority of the seniors.

By then, the district estimates that at least 10% of the seniors will no long be in town, already heading to college or into the military, and won’t be able to join in, she said.

That includes one Clovis Unified senior whose mother somewhat plaintively commented during the Facebook Live session that he was going to boot camp in July and wouldn’t be able to return the next month to participate in the bigger event.

Seniors Reject Virtual Graduations

Seniors who were surveyed made it clear that their top priority was a shared graduation, and they were in favor of postponement if that meant one could still be held.

Doing graduations as online events was definitely not what they wanted, Buchanan High principal Joe Aiello said.

“The word virtual has been a no-no with our kids,” he said.

O’Farrell said she hopes that the risk of infection from the coronavirus will have eased sufficiently by early August, which is why the district is tentatively planning for the big graduation ceremony then and is buying the gowns that the district typically would rent.

District spokeswoman Kelly Avants could not say how much the district is paying for the gowns, but she said they cost $3 more to buy than what the district previously paid to rent them.

New Vendor Needed

The district had to search for a new vendor to produce gowns for the seniors because the original vendor’s factory closed due to COVID-19, O’Farrell said.

Parents are still responsible for buying the cap, tassel, and diploma cover, as in the past, Avants said.

“To have the opportunity to tassel-turn together is very important to our students.”Clovis High principal Stephanie Hanks

The individual ceremonies will kick off at Clovis High in late May and will be watched closely to make sure graduates and their families follow the rules. Times will be scheduled for each student to cross the stage.

Any rule-breaking could jeopardize subsequent ceremonies at the other high schools, O’Farrell said.

Clovis High principal Stephanie Hanks, a Clovis Unified alum and mother of a graduating senior, said she knows how important the commencement traditions are for the community, and why there is such desire to keep as many of them as possible.

“To have the opportunity to tassel-turn together is very important to our students,” she said.

Big Audience for Facebook Live

Nearly 900 comments were posted during the webcast, which at one point had nearly 1,000 viewers. They wanted to know whether seniors would still get to go to prom, go on the traditional Elementary Walk back at their childhood elementary school, and participate in other events that are part of the Clovis Unified graduating senior experience.

One commenter asked if seniors could even do a “car parade” past the homes of elementary schoolchildren, but O’Farrell said health officials are prohibiting those to reduce the risk of infections for people who either gather in larger groups to watch the parades or who exit their cars.

Parents are still pondering the possibility of a prom for the seniors, said Jennifer Gatley, whose daughter is graduating from Clovis East.

Gatley said she felt badly when she realized her daughter, the youngest of four, would miss out on FFA banquets, prom, and other events that her older siblings had gotten to participate in.

So several weeks ago Gatley created a Facebook group, “CUSD Senior Parents Class of 2020,” as a place where parents could gather virtually to share ideas on celebrating their kids’ graduations. Clovis Unified officials also joined and had a chance to review what parents were posting and are signing on to some of the proposals, Gatley said.

Maybe Prom?

Parents also are considering helping to put together proms, if county health officials say it’s OK, Gatley said. The events coordinator of a local winery has agreed to help schedule one or more events so all Clovis Unified seniors will get a prom at an outdoor venue, she said.

She said she hopes her daughter will be able to participate in the August graduation ceremony. They had planned to be heading out of Clovis that day on a road trip to her daughter’s new campus at Oklahoma State.

Now, the tentative plan is to ship her daughter’s college gear to the university, and “I guess we’ll fly out on the 11th,” Gatley said. “We’ll make it work.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email