Bishop Garcia Diego students discuss graduating during COVID-19
Matthew Helkey and Marisa Mancinelli aren’t letting the frustrations of having to graduate from high school during a pandemic deter them from a life of success.
And Matthew and Marisa encouraged their classmates recently with positive speeches during the online commencement for Bishop Garcia Diego High School.
As her class’ salutatorian, Marisa recalled what it was like to watch her high school graduation ceremony on a TV screen.
“It obviously wasn’t what I was planning for the last 12 years of my life, but it was definitely exciting to see how much time our teachers and multimedia specialists put into it,” Marisa told the News-Press.
In addition to being salutatorian, Marisa ran track during all four of her years at Bishop and was named team captain her junior and senior years. She was also part of the Santa Barbara school’s campus ministry program.
And Marisa served as the head yearbook editor for 2020. “I was really challenged in a good way in my design abilities but also as a leader,” she said.
Marisa said her biggest challenge as yearbook editor arose in the middle of her class’s senior retreat when it was announced spring sports were canceled.
On top of missing her senior year of track, she dealt with the fact the entire yearbook faced its completion deadline the week following their retreat. The deadline came at a time when there had not been any official spring games or meets to photograph because of COVID-19.
Serving as the lead photographer and as an editor for the yearbook, Matthew told the News-Press that he too remembers what it was like scrambling to get the yearbook finished.
“We got hammered,” Matthew, the class valedictorian, told the News-Press.
To still acknowledge the accomplishments of others as well as to make up for the five to six missing sports pages, the yearbook staff contacted each of the spring coaches and asked them to share some insights about their teams.
“It was just something that they (the players) will have to look back on because we weren’t able to take pictures of them,” Marisa said.
Shortly after hearing about spring sports being canceled, the seniors at Bishop found out, as they came home from their retreat, that the school would be temporarily closing and transitioning to online learning.
In addition to being on the yearbook staff and serving as the valedictorian, Matthew was a volleyball player.
Despite the heartbreaking news during the pandemic, Matthew said the senior retreat was still an “amazing experience” because “the entire class got closer together emotionally and spiritually.”
Unfortunately, what they didn’t know at the time was the retreat was the last time their class would be together all in one place.
“I guess that was like the very last thing before lockdowns happened,” Matthew said. “So it was like both good and bad, good because we managed to get to the senior retreat, which is like this huge event we’d been looking forward to since freshman year. But bad because also after the senior retreat, everyone is really close and everyone spends more time together, but because of lockdowns happening and online school, that didn’t really happen as much.”
Due to their hard work and achievements in high school, both Matthew and Marisa were able to speak to their classmates one last time during their virtual online commencement ceremony as valedictorian and salutatorian.
Although it wasn’t the graduation ceremony they were expecting, they said they were thankful for Bishop faculty’s hard work to give them an everlasting memory that they can go back and watch forever.
“The one advantage was people everywhere could see it. I have some family members that wouldn’t have been able to come to town, but because it was an online graduation, everyone was able to see it,” Matthew said.
To keep things as close to tradition as possible, by using a green screen, the two graduates were virtually transported during their pre-recorded commencement speeches to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden, where Bishop normally holds its graduation ceremony.
During his speech, Matthew tried to encourage his fellow classmates by quoting the English poet Charlotte Bronte: “An uncertain future, (is not an) oppressive evil … so long, especially, as Liberty lends us her wings, and Hope guides us by her star.”
Matthew told the News-Press the reason behind sharing the quote was that “it definitely conveyed the feeling that we’re kind of helpless. It’s frustrating not knowing what’s going to happen and if college is going to be normal, but uncertainty isn’t necessarily bad. It just keeps us on our toes and gives us something hopefully to look forward to.”
Although COVID-19 forced them to miss the last few months of school with their classmates, senior prom, grad night, spring sports and a traditional graduation ceremony, both Matthew and Marisa said they have high hopes for the future.
Matthew plans to attend UC Davis and major in computer science.
Matthew said the thing he will miss the most about high school is “definitely the people” and that he hopes as things slowly get better that he can see everyone again before their five-year class reunion.
Marisa plans to attend UCLA and work on a double major in biochemistry and design media arts.
“I really have a strong passion for both the arts and the sciences,” Marisa said. “At UCLA, I hope I can really grow in my abilities within both the arts and the sciences.”
Marisa said the only thing she wished could have been different is to go back to school and see everyone one last time to “live out all the memories that we had together.
“I would say to my class if I could that even though it was an insanely hard time for people across the world, that it was our class that graduated during coronavirus and that even though it didn’t turn out the way we had hoped, that we will come out stronger throughout all of this.”