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No Speeches In Front Of Big Crowds, These High School Valedictorians Still Have Something To Say

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The coronavirus pandemic has laid waste to end-of-the-year events for high school seniors. So valedictorians will have to impart their wisdom online.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego county's best and brightest high school graduates won't get the standing ovation they deserve. This year, KBB S education reporter Joe Hong spoke to valedictorians from across the County about what it's like to earn this honor during a pandemic.

Speaker 2: 00:17 Reading's high school seniors, family members, underclassmen, and the hardworking staff. The speech that I've given to you all today wasn't what I had planned, but I still feel very honored to speak to all of you at times like these. It's hard to see the positive in our lives and to celebrate our accomplishments.

Speaker 3: 00:31 Jorge Nunez is the valedictorian at San Diego unified Hoover high school. This is the speech he's planning to give over a virtual graduation.

Speaker 2: 00:39 We have cultivated a culture of unity and strength, but that will not only help us overcome this pandemic, but one that would also help us to achieve our future goals

Speaker 3: 00:47 in June. Nunez will graduate with a 4.59 GPA, but he wasn't always an all star student.

Speaker 2: 00:53 I think in middle school and elementary school and you know, I kind of had like a little slump. Like I didn't really see the purpose of studying, you know, because I thought, you know, and I didn't have a purpose at that time, but

Speaker 3: 01:05 when he was a freshman he went to his brother's graduation where he saw that year's valedictorian give his speech. That's when he decided to turn his life around.

Speaker 2: 01:12 I went to his graduation and I saw like valedictorian and they were like, number one, they were giving a speech and I was wondering and you know, and they're being very recognized and now I want to do that, you know, for my parents. So they can see like the hard work.

Speaker 3: 01:23 His hard work earned him a spot at UC Berkeley where he'll study electrical engineering and computer science as a first generation college student. Nunez says he understands the valedictorian speech is not that important in the context of a pandemic, but he's still disappointed.

Speaker 2: 01:37 So I say beginning of 10th grade, you know, when for our school, that's when it starts counting towards valedictorian. That's, you know, I had it as a goal but I didn't make it seem like, Oh it's the only thing.

Speaker 3: 01:47 Carlos Sanchez was honored when he found out he was valedictorian of Sweetwater high in Chula Vista, but he says getting the news during an online learning session was awkward. It's weird.

Speaker 2: 01:57 I'd say cause like when you go on to a meeting with your teachers in the class, like the, the teacher would congratulate you and then everyone else is on mute and then you're just like thank you to the teacher.

Speaker 3: 02:08 Sanchez will be sending biochemistry at Harvey Mudd college in the fall in North County at Fallbrook high school. Valedictorian. Milliano Corona is graduating with a 4.4 GPA, friends,

Speaker 4: 02:18 families and class of 2020 my name is Anne Deanna Corona and I know what you're thinking. Yes. So that really is my last name and know the virus is not named after me.

Speaker 3: 02:28 Corona's headed to Stanford to study political science and economics, the grandson of immigrants from Mexico. He said the support for minority students on the Stanford campus is one of the main reasons for his choice.

Speaker 4: 02:38 It's just that idea of seeing someone that represents you in a place that you could never see yourself. Like you never thought you could see yourself. That's really empowering to my family and my like how I viewed the world.

Speaker 3: 02:51 Arushi dogra is the valedictorian at Del Norte high school in the power unified school district. She and her friends were sad. So many end of the year events were but Dogar says the journey was well worth it.

Speaker 5: 03:02 Like in high school I learned to take a lot of initiative by myself, whether it be like clubs that I've started or like, which classes to take. Like those decisions were pretty much like completely mine. Um, and it helped me both look like decision making cause I, I'm usually pretty indecisive about things and also just like, um, like planning my own future in a way.

Speaker 3: 03:24 She's graduating with a 4.59 GPA and attending Yale where she hopes to study microbiology. Looking ahead. She's anxious about being surrounded by equally accomplished students, but there's a lot to be excited about.

Speaker 5: 03:35 Yeah, that's definitely intimidating. But, um, I think it's also exciting in a way because I'm excited to meet people that, that like I have the same interests as me, have had some of this similar experiences as me. Um, and yeah,

Speaker 1: 03:51 joining me is KPBS education reporter Joe Hong, Joe, welcome Jorge Nunez and the others will be given their speeches at virtual graduation ceremonies. Can you tell us what those ceremonies will be like or are like?

Speaker 6: 04:09 Yeah. So they're going to be prerecorded and they're going to be uploaded on YouTube. And it's basically the ceremony is going to sort of imitate what a, what a, an imperson graduation would look like. You're going to hear speeches from the valedictorian in this case for hay and the salutatorian, the ASB president, a principal and a teacher representative. And then the principal is gonna, uh, name the, the graduates and that'll be all prerecorded and on YouTube.

Speaker 1: 04:41 And there are also drive by graduation parties for students. How do those celebrations take place?

Speaker 6: 04:47 So, uh, those are a little more festive. You know, folks who can get in their cars, students are going to get the captain downs, uh, and uh, they're going to decorate their cars and sort of drive up to campus, uh, where teachers and staff will be cheering and pick up their diplomas and, and drive off.

Speaker 1: 05:07 Now all the valedictorians you interviewed are going on to really prestigious schools. Do they know yet whether they'll be attending in person or taking classes online

Speaker 6: 05:19 that they're not for sure yet, but the students I spoke with are expecting, uh, places like Stanford and UC Berkeley to be online for the fall, at the very least a hybrid sort of format.

Speaker 1: 05:33 When will they know? Because it's going to take some time for them to travel from San Diego to Yale and Berkeley and all of the schools you mentioned

Speaker 6: 05:42 the students are really in limbo right now. One of the valedictorians I spoke with Carlos, he, he said he literally signed a housing contract for Harvey Mudd college and he doesn't know if they're going to be in person, but got us just sort of roll with the punches I guess.

Speaker 1: 05:57 You know, there's a tinge of sadness in the comments of these valedictorians. This virtual graduation world was not what they worked so hard for. What did you sense from the kids? You talked with

Speaker 6: 06:09 these kids, you know, obviously they're, they're very smart, but they're also very humble and they, they're very aware of what's going on. So yeah, they, they are disappointed. Um, but they're very much sort of like, you know, we understand that this is a very small sacrifice in the context of the pandemic. But in a case like horray Nunez, you know, this is something he's wanted to do for his parents and he's wanting to give this speech for his parents. I think that is sort of, uh, a bittersweet for him. But they all sort of understand the situation.

Speaker 1: 06:46 You mentioned parents, how are their families taking this switch to virtual graduations?

Speaker 6: 06:52 It almost seems like the parents are a little more disappointed than, than the students because, uh, you know, when I reached out to interview these valleys, Koreans, they, they were grateful because they felt like, uh, they're sort of moment in the spotlight was sort of taken away from them.

Speaker 1: 07:09 Did you get the impression any of the valedictorians thought their hard work wasn't worth it because of this?

Speaker 6: 07:15 No. I mean, absolutely not. I mean, it's almost the opposite where they feel like they all had very positive experiences in high school and they're all grateful for the high school experience, but they're also very much looking ahead and thinking about what they're going to do when they go to college. Um, sort of the clubs are going to join and they're excited for the people they're going to meet.

Speaker 1: 07:38 Now I just want to ask a couple of quick questions about the status of schools and the school year in San Diego. Governor Newsome said yesterday that an announcement was coming about modifications for school reopening that announcement expected anytime now our schools in San Diego preparing for the return of students.

Speaker 6: 07:58 Yeah. Well, it's ultimately going to come down to how much funding they get from the state and federal government. So the ideal situation for a school district like San Diego unified, which is the second largest in the state, um, would be to extend the school year, but it's unlikely they'll get the state and the federal funding needed for that. Um, it's possible right now that the state will provide some additional funding which may allow for a school district like San Diego unified to extend the school year for a couple of weeks, uh, for vulnerable student populations. This includes, uh, homeless students, uh, foster children who sort of experienced more, uh, what they call learning loss during this time.

Speaker 1: 08:45 So it sounds that unless they get the funding, school officials aren't really on board with the governor's idea that in school classes could start early as this summer.

Speaker 6: 08:57 Right. Um, and you know, the school district officials are very clear about that. It's they, they literally need the funding to reopen schools because you're going to need more social distancing measures, which means smaller class sizes. You're going to need a fragmented school day, which means more, you're going to need more staffing to support that. I have been joined by KPBS education reporter Joe Hong and Joe, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 7: 09:31 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.