Despite the pomp and circumstance of a well-orchestrated ceremony, the 248 graduates of Charter Oak High School went home last week without diplomas.
It was not that the students had flunked their finals or were being punished for poor conduct. They were the victims of a prank.
Somehow, moments before last Tuesday's ceremony, a thief or thieves broke into the cafeteria, where the sheepskins were kept, and made away with the diplomas. School officials had planned to distribute the diplomas after the ceremony in an effort to streamline the traditionally lengthy spring rite.
"I think it's pretty stupid," said Uyen Ly, the 17-year-old valedictorian who, like her classmates, had nothing to put inside the diploma cover given to her during the ceremony.
Ly said the prank was one of several classmates had pulled in recent weeks. "Some of them are absurd and stupid, but this (one) hurts the whole class," she said.
"Some students thought it was funny," said graduate Kyung Joon Kim, but he was disappointed. "My parents invited a lot of people to our home for a party, and I didn't get to show off my diploma."
Principal Jack Cline was not as upset as some of the students. He said new diplomas have been ordered and the class of 1985 should receive them by mail in August.
In the meantime, he said, the graduates will not be hurt by the lack of a diploma because colleges and prospective employers use copies of student transcripts for verification of graduation and academic achievement.
Nonetheless, Cline said, the incident was reported to police as a petty theft because it will cost more than $350 to replace the diplomas.
Graduates and school officials said no one noticed that the diplomas were missing until after the ceremony.
Cline believes that whoever stole the diplomas did it on the spur of the moment after seeing a school official put them in the cafeteria minutes before the ceremony.
"We checked trash (cans) throughout the whole campus, looked on the roofs," but no trace of the diplomas or the burglar was found, he said. If the culprit is caught, "we are going to hold (him) financially responsible," he said, and the school will press charges to recover the cost of replacing the diplomas.
Kim said he was not surprised at the prank. A few days before the theft, he heard rumors on campus that someone would try to pilfer the diplomas, he said.
The diploma job, he added, was the latest in a series of pranks that began four weeks ago when a group of Charter Oak students stole a six-foot-tall Big Boy statue from a Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Covina and placed the grinning, round-bellied figure on top of the school's library. It has been returned.
Two weeks ago, a life-size dummy of a carnival clown was placed atop the Associated Student Body office, Cline said.
Despite some inconvenience, the 48-year-old principal looks at the pranks with a bit of nostalgia.
"It's kind of like the old days when (youngsters) put outhouses on streetcar tracks. These are the kind of pranks my dad bragged about."