Belen Consolidated Schools graduates will be getting their traditional Tuesday ceremony this year — just a month late.
Last week, BCS administrators sent out a survey asking parents and students to rank three dates — June 9, 10 and 11 — in order of preference for a graduation ceremony for the class of 2020.
“I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised when people preferred the Tuesday date,” said BCS Superintendent Diane Vallejos.
With the upcoming graduation ceremonies for both Belen and Infinity high schools canceled, district officials decided to make every effort to have a traditional ceremony.
Of the 198 people who responded to the survey, 94 ranked Tuesday, June 9, as their preference, Vallejos said.
“We are planning to have a traditional ceremony that complies with the health orders in effect at that date,” the superintendent said.
The exact number of people who will be allowed into Eagle Stadium on the BHS campus hasn’t been decided and most likely won’t be determined until closer to the date of the event.
“I’m sure we will limit attendance,” Vallejos said. “I don’t see us being allowed to have 3,000 people in the stadium.”
The rescheduled ceremony will be at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 9, at Eagle Stadium, for Belen and Infinity high school graduates. Vallejos said the district is also planning to hold a special ceremony for graduates who have enlisted and have military orders to leave before the June ceremony.
“Regardless of size, we will live stream the ceremony so individuals who are not able to make it can watch,” the superintendent said. “We aren’t sure which platform it will be on, but we’re working to make sure it is professionally done and looks good.
“Right now, what we don’t know is how many people will be allowed in the stadium and we just ask for everyone’s patience and cooperation.”
As the date gets closer, the district will be able to release more details. The district anticipates graduates will be wearing masks and the number of staff and dignitaries traditionally seated on the field would be limited in order to allow for family members to attend.
The survey the district sent out allowed respondents to make comments on the subject, most of which have been gracious, Vallejos said.
“People seemed grateful we are trying to have a traditional ceremony. They loved the idea of a live ceremony even if only Mom and Dad could go, for keeping things as normal as possible,” she said. “We understand this is not ideal and we appreciate everyone being supportive. It’s important to close out the school year.”
While the May 12 ceremony won’t take place, Vallejos said the district is still doing something special that day to honor the Belen and Infinity classes of 2020.
At 8:20 p.m. — 2020 military time — the lights at field will be turned on to celebrate the graduating Eagles. They will remain lit for 20 minutes and 20 seconds.
Belen High School seniors are invited to drive and park at the school to view the lights from their vehicles.
Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova said in collaboration with the district, the city is hosting a drive-thru celebration of the graduates on May 12.
Between Fifth and Sixth streets on Becker Ave., large, printed pictures of the graduates will be on display so members of the community can drive by at any time.
From 6:45-7:45 p.m., graduates can take a cruise down the decorated avenue and pick up a congratulatory goodie bag filled with items donated by local businesses, the mayor said.
“They can come down there before they go up to the high school and park for the lights there,” Cordova said. “We will also be lighting up the water tower at the same time. We have a projector and if all goes right, we will project ‘Believe in Belen’ on the water tower.”
Cordova said the city is contributing $1,800 for the printing of the photos, and other expenses were being covered by members of the Belen Arts and Culture District as well as the ad hoc Believe in Belen group.
BCS is lending the city fencing to hang the photos and banners on, while Cordova is contributing new, colored lights for the tower and the projector.
The city helping fund the graduation celebration would not violate the state’s anti-donation clause, the mayor said, since transactions between government entities aren’t subject to the clause.
In light of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19 and the potential financial impact to the city, a March 12 email from city finance manager Rosann Peralta directed that “all spending will need to be for essential reasons only until further notice.”
“I’d say this is an essential expense. Celebrating our Belen graduates is among the best things we can do to uplift these amazing kids,” Cordova said. “They worked hard to get their diplomas and we will honor them in every way we can.”
Because the district had to make the transition to distance learning, the Belen Board of Education waived the requirements for students to earn 28 credits.
“For this graduating class only, we waived the 28 credits and will accept the 24 the state requires,” Vallejos said. “They still have to meet all the math, English, health, science and physical education requirements; we had four additional credits that were all electives.”
Canon Christian Academy in Belen plans to hold a traditional graduation ceremony as soon as it’s possible. While the original May 16 ceremony has been canceled, school administrative assistant Susan Guest said there will be a ceremony in the future that complies with state health orders.
“We will comply with regulations but have chosen to hold our ceremony, when we can, in person,” Guest said via email.