It was a graduation unlike any other for the Bulldogs.
While the celebration to cap off Burbank High School’s class of 2020 graduating seniors was full of pomp and circumstance, the virtually recorded event also was spliced with poignant, heartfelt messages, lilting music and bittersweet comedy, telling of the toll quarantine measures took on the students and the rather unceremonious ending to their high school career.
The BHS Commencement 2020 was a tribute in partnership with local production company Mocean and culmination of a weeklong awards program aired through the school’s own BHS-TV, a student-run production that can be streamed on Vimeo and YouTube.
“The production became a passion project in a year when the kids have lost so much,” said BHS Principal Thomas Crowther. “We wanted to showcase our amazing school and our wonderful seniors — perhaps to some community members who hadn’t ‘met’ them.”
Performances included individual cuts to form cohesive acts from choir, band, drama and dance. During the premiere, live chat windows were set up so the seniors and their families could visit virtually with one another, and at one point there were nearly a thousand viewers on the chat together, said Crowther, noting that the ceremony ended exactly at 8:20 p.m. and “made some noise for the class of 2020.”
“We even turned the lights on at Kemp-Kallum Field for 20 minutes. Some families went outside the field and took photos together,” he said, adding it was “a unique and a beautiful finish for our class.”
During the commencement video, there were appearances from actors and athletes, including L.A. Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts. Some were former BHS graduates, like former Major League Baseball player Freddy Sanchez (class of ’96) and Broadway singer and dancer Kevin Zambrano (class of ’14).
But some of the most touching messages came from the seniors themselves, including from Valedictorian Anna Tong and salutatorians Corine Chung and Minju Kim, along with ASB President Sarkis TerPetrossyan. Other seniors were allowed some words as well, taking the place of walking across the stage.
In her senior speech, Phoebe Kellogg expressed the difficulty of losing out on so many memorable events and the companionship of dear friends, but said quarantine measures taught her that distance is just another obstacle:
“Quarantine was so hard because we felt like there was so much that we’d be losing — but we were lucky to have a lot to lose, and hopefully we all found out … that ultimately we’ve learned enough to strengthen our ties together,” Kellogg said. “If we’ve lasted through the past two months, maybe BHS has given us another gift — maybe it’s taught us how to make our bonds unbreakable, durable through any distance and Teflon throughout time.”
Though there were 656 seniors this year at BHS, since airing, the video has been viewed by about 8,000 households. Crowther noted that in some ways, the virtual ceremony was easier for people to access, adding that one parent compared watching it to being in a suite at the Staples Center for a big game.
In his own message to the graduates, Crowther touched upon some of the lessons he learned during quarantine, including spending more time with loved ones, or doing something you love.
“… Instead of being driven, have purpose to find what is most important to you, how that might allow you to make a living, how you might apply it to a benefit, a community, a society or something bigger than just you,” he said, concluding “and then, my Bulldogs, you will have achieved the life of your dreams.”