It was an afternoon of celebration – albeit from a safe distance – as 144 graduates crossed the stage set up in front of the high school as their parents and siblings cheered them on from their vehicles during the Class of 2020 Bishop High School car parade and commencement ceremony held Friday.
Because of social distancing guidelines brought about because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bishop Consolidated Independent School District had to forgo the traditional graduation format this year. For families and friends unable to attend because of the restrictions, the ceremony was broadcast on social media as well as on the radio.
The event began with a car parade through the streets of Bishop for the soon-to-be graduates, beginning at the city park and concluding at the high school. Upon reaching the campus, students exited the vehicles and lined up, one-by-one and six feet apart outside the front of the high school.
Individual diplomas were placed inside a small vase next to the stage to minimize contact with school personnel during the ceremony. Students then posed for photos on the stage before returning to their vehicles and entering the campus's parking lot to view the rest of the ceremony.
Athletic awards were also handed out during commencement for student athletes, as the district was unable to hold its annual sports banquet this year because of the pandemic.
After receiving their diplomas, graduates and their families were able to take additional pictures at designated backdrops placed along the campus perimeter.
Once all senior graduates had crossed the stage, Superintendent Christina Gutierrez addressed the audience and thanked administrators and staff who she said worked hard to make the event possible.
"I am forever grateful for your persistence and creativity in putting this together," she said.
Class salutatorian Victoria Pimentel followed the superintendent with her salutatory address, where she outlined the things that she believes in after four years in high school: growth, perseverance and having a strong support system.
"I'm sure we are all tired of hearing about COVID-19, but I feel as one of the major challenges of our generation, we will all persevere and become a better and stronger generation for it," Pimentel said.
Pimentel also thanked her teachers, family, friends and fellow graduates during her speech. She concluded by telling her classmates to never forget what they believe in or who they are as individuals.
"I wish you all nothing but the best," she said. "And I hope the future brings you everything you have ever wanted and more."
Valedictorian Alyssa Trejo ended the ceremony with her valedictory speech where she reflected on the class's journey through high school leading up to that evening's graduation.
"Although our spring semester was nowhere near what we had planned or hoped for, I
am grateful to share this last precious moment of our high school experience with my fellow classmates and the rest of the Bishop community," she said.
Trejo said her fellow seniors were "all destined for greatness" and urged them to "strive to be the best version of yourself, follow your dreams and live life."
"Because you are all strong and intellectual individuals," she said.
Trejo said they are graduating "during a time that will go down in history books, and our sacrifices, patience and dedication during this crisis will forever be remembered."
"We have truly made our mark," she said. "We have left a massive footprint on this Earth, and the world will never forget the Class of 2020."
Although the Riviera Kaufer High School Class of 2020's senior year was stopped short because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, on Friday evening nearly 40 students were handed their diplomas and celebrated in a unique graduation ceremony they would likely never forget.
A line formed from County Road 2335 and continued through Riviera as a small parade was held for each graduate to be recognized in their individual vehicles on their way to the front of Kaufer High School.
Riviera residents, teachers and neighbors waved as graduates drove by en route to the campus inside decorated vehicles.
Once at the high school, students walked out of their vehicles and sat in chairs waiting for them in front of a stage where they would later receive their diplomas while their families waited in the parking lot and watched the ceremony take place from afar.
The ceremony began with Kaufer High School Principal Patricia Thornton welcoming those in attendance.
"This is really happening," Thornton said. "Your
graduation is here. We are not Zooming. We are not having a virtual graduation. We are physically here. Welcome. It is with much anticipation and joy that I begin the ceremony."
Thornton then addressed the seniors sporting their cap and gowns in front of her and said the ceremony was "history in the making."
"Every one of us is here for every one of you," she said. "After the roller coaster ride of emotions and all the what is in the last 10 weeks, your hard work, your tenacity and your grit for the past 13 years has paid off. And our graduates, it's paid off big. We are so proud of everything you've accomplished."
Thornton then addressed the boys of the class and the girls of the class separately before saying one final "I love you," to her students.
Class salutatorian Madison West followed at the podium, and began by addressing that she was seeing her classmates for the first time in weeks.
Despite the coronavirus keeping the class apart for the final days of their senior year, West said there is still plenty to appreciate given the circumstances.
"We're willing to stay apart so we can stay healthy and happy," West said. "We know that our friends are there for us when we need them, just a call or text away. We know that people are out there helping each other like never before, donating blood, hosting food pantries, friends and neighbors reacquainting themselves in reaching out a helping hand, are just a few examples of this. So, even in these uncertain times, we know we have the love and support to help us through any and everything."
West shared anecdotes about her high school experience, which drew smiles from the crowd before closing her speech with a special message for her class mates.
"Go out and reach for the stars, follow your dreams and live life to the fullest," she said. What feels like the end today, is really the beginning of a long journey ahead. May God continue to shower us all with love and abundant blessings. Thank you and Gig 'Em."
Class valedictorian Emily Bunger was next at the podium and immediately began her speech with joke after joke about her senior year, the school's freshman class and the "best senior prank" any class could ever pull off.
"Now, I don't have much to say about senior year mostly because this jerk named 'Coronavirus' came and stole it right out from under us," Bunger said. "But on a serious note, I have learned one thing: You never know what you have until it's gone."
Bunger shared multiple anecdotes of her years in high school and her experiences with multiple students and staff, all while drawing laughter from everyone in the social distanced crowd.
As she drew near the end of her speech, she made sure to warn her classmates she had reached the inevitable "reach for the stars part" of her speech.
"Each one of you have impacted me in so many ways and you have also taught me many lessons in friendship along the way," she said. "Each and every one of you have a purpose. And I pray that God guides you every single day of your lives, and you live each day with a grateful heart. Never give up on your dreams. You have one life to live so make the most of it. I love every one of you with all my heart and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you."
Bunger then left the senior class with one final joke to cap off her speech.
"Well, now I'm gonna go delete four years worth of homework assignments from my (phone) camera roll, so I'll see you at the reunion," she said.
Each graduate then walked the stage to receive their diplomas amid the sounds of car horns and noise makers before they dispersed back to their vehicles.
The graduates then lined up once again for an outgoing parade to commemorate their achievement.
The Kleberg County count of positive cases of COVID-19 reached 16 as of Tuesday, with 11 cases now released from isolation.
Last Thursday, Kleberg County and City of Kingsville officials announced the 15th positive case of COVID-19 as a man in his 20's was in close contact with an individual who was previously confirmed as a positive case.
The 16th case is a community spread case and is a woman who is in her later 70's, officials said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services Region 11 personnel are monitoring both the man and the woman as of Tuesday.
Kleberg County had two probable cases of COVID-19 that were not added to the count because they were not confirmed positive cases.
However, officials said the two probable cases have been released from isolation, making it an overall total of 13 cases removed from isolation in the area.
The county now has only four active positive cases of COVID-19 in the area, and Region 11 personnel are conducting contact tracing with all individuals to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Kleberg County still only has one death due to COVID-19.
The Texas Military Department will be returning to the Kleberg County and City of Kingsville Joint Regional Testing Site at Dick Kleberg Park today, May 28.
An update on those testing numbers will be posted online at kingsvillerecord.com.
In a statement posted on Monday, officials said the risk of COVID-19 "remains a concern in our community."
"Please continue to practice social distancing to the best extent possible and frequently wash your hands," officials said in the statement. "(Gov. Greg Abbott) and both (Kleberg) County Judge (Rudy) Madrid and Mayo (Sam) Fugate highly recommend you waer a mask when in public and social distancing cannot be practiced."
City and county buildings are open by appointment only, and all parks run by both entities will remain open with safety precautions, officials said.