San Benito grads step into the future

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San Benito High School hosted an in-person graduation commencement for the Class of 2020 at Andy Hardin Stadium. The graduation ceremony took place over the course of four days beginning June 1. (Juan Reyes)

The blistering heat made for a warm visit to San Benito High School on Tuesday afternoon, but that wasn’t going to stop members of the Class of 2020 from celebrating their big day. 

Kenneth Kliewer was one of 60 seniors to receive their diploma during the third and final mini ceremony of the day at Andy Hardin Stadium. 

Kliewer said it was exciting to see that the high school was able to pull off an in-person ceremony because having a virtual graduation ceremony is not the same.

“It’s just nice to have an actual in-person [commencement] and take pictures with my parents,” he said. “It’s just a good feeling all around.”

Approximately 680 graduates were broken up into three groups of 60 per day and recognized over the course of four days beginning June 1.

Kenneth’s mom, Julie Kliewer, said she’s thankful they were able to participate in something, especially after all the students went through with the Covid-19 pandemic that forced schools to shut down for the rest of the school year.

“My son was online, he was attending all the meetings,” she said. “He didn’t drop the ball at all, we’re so proud of him. And I think a lot of these students did the same thing.”  

Brain DeCarli, graduation coordinator, said the traditional graduation commencement took a detour with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had to really deviate and move directions,” he said.

DeCarli said they offered a virtual graduation, which will still go live Friday, but he received a lot of feedback from senior students, community members, the graduation committee and the school board. 

Kenneth said he believed at one point that the pandemic was going to end before their graduation date. But then he heard the news that the in-person commencement was cancelled and going to be replaced with a virtual one instead.

“It was a bummer but we gotta be safer than sorry; it is what it is,” Kenneth said.

DeCarli and company put together an action plan, which was sent to the San Benito County Public Health Services department. DeCarli said they had just weeks to prepare, and mentioned he had support from the entire school, especially Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum.

“Even though it’s a different format and it’s over different days, it’s nice to provide what we consider the best opportunity for them and to see it play out is really gratifying,” DeCarli said.

Alexis Lozano said she was excited when the news broke because graduation is a milestone of high school.

“It was pretty nice,” she said. “I liked the fact that they called out our names, that’s what I really liked. But it’s a little warm.” 

Alexis accepted her diploma alongside her parents. Her dad, Jose, said he was a little surprised that they went along with the commencement ceremony.

“At least they got to stand here, so it’s kind of special,” he said. 

Alexis, who plans to go to UC Davis to major in political science and become a lawyer, also had some wise words for next year’s incoming freshmen.

“Have fun,” she said. “They say that it really goes by super quick and it does. By the time you know it, you’re already graduating.” 

Kenneth, who graduated with nearly a 4.3 grade point average, will attend Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo to focus on civil engineering. The San Benito High Scholar Athlete of the Year also plans to play water polo for a club.

Kenneth said what he’ll remember the most is making news friends, trying news things and all the people who took time to teach him.

“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Kenneth said. “Make good friends, make memories here because no one expected this to happen. It was devastating for the ceremony not to happen, but praise God we have a small in-person graduation with our family.”