Throwing a graduation cap in the air, dressed in an academic gown, is an experience to which our students aspire. It’s a gesture that encapsulates the completion of everything they have worked for and shows the value of education. After going through the formal process, the result of this hard work lends students the opportunity to take part in a full and thriving adult life. No matter where they come from, it marks an important step toward where they’re going.
As the leadership of the San Francisco school board, we’re delighted that seniors can go back to our high schools in San Francisco before the school year ends. It means they’ll get to spend the final few weeks together before they graduate.
Both of us remember our experiences of the final days of our senior year and exploring what comes next. Faauuga graduated from the San Francisco Unified School District and remembers throwing his cap in the air, and losing it. Then he went on to work as a social worker helping people in crisis throughout The City. And he came back to the district to give something back. Gabriela became a teacher after college. She went to Los Angeles Unified School District schools, and spent time at the Los Angeles campus where they shot “Grease” in the 1970s. The movie is about the social development of young people as they figure out how to be themselves — just as we did during our schooling experience, and as our students are doing now.
San Francisco’s class of 2021 is a lot more diverse, though, and so are its students’ experiences. We are conscious that the pandemic has made life much more difficult for our graduating seniors. In particular, it has worsened racial inequities. But we have confidence in their resilience and in their long-term prospects. This isn’t going to be an archetypal senior experience. Still, it promises to be an emotional and memorable one. And we appreciate being able to continue to be a part of it.
Last year, our students had to graduate over the internet. So we have been diligently working to get us back to in-person learning experiences we once knew, and implementing what we learned during the pandemic to make it better. We have also continued to monitor the safety guidance provided to us to make sure these cherished moments can be had without fear.
Thanks to all of this work and seniors’ excitement around returning, the district will also capture some of the money set aside by the state, as it has met a May 15 deadline to fulfill reopening requirements. More than 19,000 students already back in person, and all seniors are being welcomed back this week. This moment has come thanks to our teachers, families and young people, as well as all of our staff working every single day to support our students. We have been on a long journey together to get here. And it embodies collaboration, mutual concern and respect.
Our seniors will come back for college, financial, and career counseling. Yes, there will be tutoring and study hall. But we’ll also offer wellness support. This is about us offering our students life skills and support for succeeding after high school. It’s going to be a different way for our students to reconnect and it’s going to be productive. It will also help our students to transition out of the district and into the rest of their lives. We know the importance of in-person learning and wish we could have offered even more.
And we know the importance of in-person graduation. This is the opportunity for seniors in high school to have real connections and a formal end to their career.
Gabriela López and Faauuga Moliga are president and vice president of the San Francisco Unified School District Board.