Class of 2020 students Aly Sullivan and Riley McConnell during the drive-through celebration in June at Morro Bay High School. At the time a formal graduation ceremony was in the works for August—it has been canceled. Photo by Shari Sullivan

This year instead of walking across the stage in front of family and friends to receive their diplomas, the 165 graduating seniors at Morro Bay High School will walk to their mailbox.

For the second time this year, commencement ceremonies for the class of 2020 were canceled due to the coronavirus.

On July 23 an email was sent to parents delivering the disappointing news that a formal graduation ceremony planned for early August was not going to happen.

“Increased cases, placement on the California Public Health Watch List, and common sense tells us that we cannot host the event that our students want; a ceremony across a stage in their football stadium with families cheering on,” read the letter from by Kyle Pruitt, principal at MBHS. “We know that all of you hope that we can host an in-person ceremony, but we have to accept that an August graduation ceremony is not safe given the state and local pandemic mandates.”

School campuses and in-person classes were closed in March throughout the San Luis Coastal Unified School District in the hopes of slowing the pandemic.

In June seniors said goodbye to what is now their alma mater with a drive-through celebration. Students posed for photos and waved exuberantly to classmates, teachers and administrators believing that they would soon walk across the stage in a traditional ceremony in the school’s football stadium.

The school’s announcement came on the same day SLO County reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day since the pandemic began.

“Unfortunately, the past few weeks have shown that San Luis Obispo County is not immune to the climb in coronavirus cases and deaths,” the letter continued. “While our scale is smaller, we cannot ignore the fact that our State and local government are doing what they can to keep us safe while managing to keep hospital beds available for those who fall victim to the virus. Our goal is the same, to keep you safe and healthy.”

The cancelation weighed heavy on students and the school administration despite there being no way of knowing what the level of the pandemic would be four months after schools shutdown.

“We feel that nothing was enough for this class of graduates,” MBHS Assistant Principal Jeff Cadwallader told Estero Bay News. “It was a wonderful celebration in June, but we had really hoped to provide them with a more traditional experience in August.” 

Congratulations are in order for the school’s valedictorian, Abigail Burrus and salutatorian, Midori Day.

This is the first time graduation ceremonies have been canceled since Morro Bay High School opened in 1956. Diplomas and diploma covers, along with a ceremony program will be sent to all seniors this week via postal mail.

Many graduates planning to go on to college have been dealt another blow to their academic experience. Universities and community colleges are still grappling with the decision to hold on-campus classes or continue with distance learning.

Cuesta College, where the majority of MBHS college bound students will begin their pursuit of higher education, recently announced that students will continue learning from home for the fall semester.

Lecture classes previously scheduled to be on campus are now entirely online. Students enrolled in a lab, activity, or performance class may still have a campus component and should continue to review the most up-to-date status of such courses on the class finder.

The semester begins Aug. 17.