Celebrating the Class of 2020, from Napa, with Love!
By Lisa Adams Walter
Usually, the spring and early summer are filled with graduations and celebrations. Not so this year as the global pandemic, due to COVID-19, has touched nearly every person on the planet. One thing is universal, there is not much that seems “usual” in 2020.
As we all know, across the country, schools were shuttered and students of every level began virtual learning, online at home. Social distance impacted education of course, and then also all of the traditions of being a member of a senior class at every level.
While middle school promotions and eighth grade graduations were impacted, the loss experienced by high school seniors everywhere is unrivaled. Never before have traditional graduations from coast to coast been cancelled or postponed.
Schools have been working to figure out how to best honor their graduating seniors by celebrating students virtually, creating drive-by events to distribute caps and gowns, as well as those hard-earned diplomas.
Beyond the schools themselves, though, a grass-roots community group was born on Facebook called the “Napa Class of 2020 - Adopt a Senior.” Anyone on Facebook can join the group to adopt and celebrate graduating seniors.
Locals Stacy Geary and Stacey Small founded the group, inspired by a similar group based in the Carson City and Virginia City, Nevada region. Small’s sister was part of that group, suggested it to Geary, and together they conceptualized the online community, which has now grown to be a full-on movement.
Parents, guardians or friends can post pictures and information about their graduating high school senior, and put them up for “adoption.” Anyone can adopt a senior, and surprise them with anything ranging from a card or letter, to yard signs and banners, to a flock of flamingos in the yard to favorite things and gifts.
The group remains open, and with more than 1,000 local graduating teens the virtual adopting and celebrations will continue into the summer. I adopted a senior and encourage anyone in our community who can do so, to adopt a senior too!
The description of the group encourages members to shower our Napa seniors with some extra love by adopting a senior or two. The adopters need to let the graduates know that they are being rooted for, especially in this time of cancelled proms and postponed graduations. “Let’s share the love!” the page exclaims.
Colleen Harmon is an adopter who said that she is grateful for the opportunity to help the graduates feel celebrated, even though this isn’t the situation anyone expected. “I think the district is still going to do a drive by, and I’m hoping we’ll find ways the community and their families can still have a modified experience, but knowing this is here for the ones connected is great!”
Another adopter Andrea Risley stated, “I love the idea of bringing joy to others. Especially someone who may be suffering or struggling.”
“Notes, little gifts, favorite snacks, just to let them know they are being thought of, and we want to support them in this small way during this situation. Graduation is still a great milestone for parents, students, teachers. It’s great to be invited to participate!” Harmon added.
Mia Sykes adopted an American Canyon High School student, “Adopt a senior class of 2020 was so wonderful, so much fun!” Sykes went on to say that her student and her parents loved the gifts she delivered, while masked.
A scroll through the Facebook group shows lots of local love. In addition to the posts of students up for adoption, and adopted, there are posts of smiling graduates with their surprises from their adopters. All good stuff!
In addition to co-founding the group, Stacy Geary is also a parent of a local grad, her daughter Haley Geary of Vintage High School. “This group has absolutely amazed me in every single way. When I started the group, I never anticipated it being as successful as it has been. It is bringing the whole community together in an amazing way! Teachers, principals, coaches are being reconnected with their students from the past,” reported Geary.
For a senior, being adopted is very special, yet the adoptions mean a lot to the families of seniors too. Vanessa Barboza, whose daughter Daniela is graduating from Vintage High School said, “For my family this page has made my daughter’s smile come back. Her surprised face is priceless, she didn’t know about this until the gifts came.” Barboza’s daughter felt like she worked hard and was disappointed that she will not be able to walk the stage. Her family has therefore created a small prom at home, a ditch day and senior prank day. “At the end we are going to make a ceremony for her, she deserves it,” Barboza added, “When all of this is over we might be able to take her on a senior trip as we had planned before!”
For Shawna Gardner Montuya, she is grateful for the Adopt a Senior Movement. She explained that her daughter Kat Montuya, an American Canyon High School graduate, recently lost her father, so her senior year alone has been difficult. “I know she is not alone in this, but feeling love from the very people she is missing being around each day, being acknowledged for what she is going through and what she has accomplished makes her feel great and brings so many smiles to her face,” said Montuya, “And it makes me feel amazing too. It is really a gift to see that your child is liked and appreciated amongst her peers and her community.”
“I love this page, it has brought joy and hope to myself and my son, as well for all the community, we all need that,” said Valeria Lopez. Her son Ayden Lopez is graduating from Vintage High School. “I have never been more proud of him, especially during this time. He has fought long and hard and achieved so much over the years with struggles, but came out on top, to make sure he was going to make his dreams come true and mine,” she remarked, explaining that she has been his biggest supporter as a single mother, who could not have down it without the help of her entire family.
Ayden is the first grandson, first great-grandson and first of the next generation of Lopez’s family to graduate from high school. “I have waited for 18 years to watch my son graduate and walk that stage on graduation day. So many mixed emotions going on, but I also work in healthcare and know and understand that our health and the health of others is much more important above all.”
Makayla Mowe is a graduating senior from Justin-Siena High School, and the daughter of Dustin and Renee Mowe who plan to celebrate on graduation day at home, which is also the last day of online classes. “The Adopt a Senior group has been awesome!” Makayla Mowe said, “To receive love and support from people in our community that don’t know me or my family has been so sweet and a reflection of how generous and kind the people of Napa really are.”
Mowe added that although school being canceled for the rest of her senior year has been devastating, Justin-Siena has done its best to make her and her peers feel important and loved throughout this time. “They have held a few ‘drive through’ events that have been fun and given me something to look forward to. I have also had weekly Zoom calls with my friends where we have laughed, cried and reflected on the last four years together. These things have helped me a lot and brought positivity to the situation. Although this was not the way I expected my senior year to end, I am grateful for the memories I have and that my family and I are healthy.”
Dylan Goodrich, also a Justin-Siena High School 2020 graduate, is the son of Anne Heine. “This Adopt a Senior Group is such a wonderful thing and I am so grateful for it. It’s hard as a mom to watch your child end their high school career and not see them celebrated,” Heine said. Her son also received a special visit from the Napa City Fire Department, “It was probably more a highlight for me than it even was for my son, because he’s headed off to a summer job and will miss whatever graduation ceremony Justin-Siena ends up having.” Therefore Dylan’s family is not even really celebrating, as he is already off to his next step which seems okay to him, but his mother is mourning not being able to fully celebrate all that he has accomplished.
For Alondra Sanchez Calderon, a Class of 2020 graduate from Vintage High School, it was difficult to accept the circumstances of how her senior year would end. “It felt like it was stolen from me and I grieved along with the thousands of other graduates in this town. I don’t know how many times I have shed tears- despite the fact that I felt selfish in doing so because thousands of other people’s lives have been stolen from the virus. It wasn’t until I joined the Napa Class of 2020 Adopt a Senior Group, where I was adopted and I saw so many of my peers surprised with joy as well. It filled my heart with happiness but most importantly, I realized that no person or virus can take my education away and I allowed myself to validate my feelings. There is nothing I have never overcome and the new traditions only make us unique to others. God knew that this wouldn’t be my only accomplishment. Thank you to all community members who are participating in the group and congratulations to all of my fellow graduates this year!”
Another local graduate, Elliot Surh of the Napa High School Class of 2020 admitted that at first it was of course super disappointing that graduation activities were cancelled, but he understood the circumstances and severity of the pandemic. The son of Don Surh and Shelley Webb Surh, he came to terms with it, realizing that it was out of his control. “As soon as you get past that you are not going to have that traditional graduation it is an interesting experience as it shows that the school and community care, but in a different way than they traditionally show that.”
A touching gift for Elliot Surh was that he was adopted by his Napa Valley Language Academy Kindergarten teacher Gladys Hernandez, who gifted him with some notes and memories from the very first year of his education, as well as some other surprises. “Things like that mean a lot and have a lot of sentiment. It was a very cool and sweet experience,” he said, adding that the Adopt a Senior movement has been really nice as the community is showing how much they care.
“Nothing is going to replace the graduation that we have been looking forward to,” Surh added, “But it has been nice for the community to show that they really care. All of the parents and people that have reached out, it has been a great experience receiving all of it, and knowing that everyone is there for me and cares for me.”
Laura Calixto, whose daughter Alondra Perez is graduating from Napa High School, recalls that it was difficult when they first heard about the cancellation of events, lots of tears were shed. “For me as a mother it was also difficult because I couldn’t find the right words to encourage her, but little by little we have been understanding and accepting the situation,” Calixto explained, adding that being adopted helped her child feel a little happier and recognized for all of her efforts.
Another Napa High School graduate Leonardo Martinez’s mother Carosol Cruz is not sure yet how they will celebrate, as this is all new. For her, however, this group means a lot, “It’s not about the gift that the sponsor brings, it’s about the honor that you’re doing for all of this seniors. I have many emotions, sad, because we were dreaming about this moment, but thankful, because even with this situation we are healthy and together, thank you!”
Sutisa Schulte, whose daughter Isabella Rocha is also a Napa High Class of 2020 graduate explains that she has waited for graduation day for 18 years, “I’m heartbroken but this group has helped make me feel blessed, how the community is coming together to help our seniors feel special and loved.”
“The best part is the joy it brings to everyone!” said Shaina Cook whose daughter McKenna Cook is a New Technology High School graduate. “Everyone in my house is so excited when McKenna receives a package! The community of complete strangers who are enjoy participating and some just watching! In a time where much of our days are mundane the spark of compassion and celebration brings smiles to all!”
“This group has just continued to show how amazing our community is. These kids have had to deal with school being cut short due to fires and now COVID, emphasized Andrea Limon who is contributing to the group through donations of services and gifts. “Although I don’t have a senior, I still have children and know how hard this has been on them. So I can only imagine how difficult this must be for these soon-to-be young adults.” Limon is creating a new version of a Mother-Daughter Tea, and will use her family’s wine for parents, as well as her skills as a hairstylist and make-up artist to create some special memories for seniors. “Our community is amazing and whether it be earthquakes, fires or viruses, we always come together to help one another.”
Co-founder Stacy Geary confirmed that many local business, those that are in dire need themselves, are offering for graduates, discounts, prizes and gifts. Some that I spotted in the group include free tacos from Taco Addiction, senior portrait sessions from Classic Photography and Gianna Rossi Photography, cakes from Kim’s Sweet Karma, gifts from Napa Bookmine and the aforementioned hair and makeup sessions from Limon.
“This group has restored my faith in humanity, as well as bringing a much needed smile to my face. It has definitely taken me out of my quarantine funk,” Geary concluded.