Just about the last thing seniors in the Oxnard Union High School District had on their minds during the final days of their elongated school year was hunkering down for serious study.
Their peers across the county had already begun basking on sandy beaches, jetting off for summer vacation or preparing for college come fall.
But Oxnard district officials petitioned the state for money to extend its academic year by seven days this year, prolonging the much-awaited graduation ceremonies until Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s too good to be true,” said Oxnard High School senior Cassandra Patton, wearing a yellow cap and gown and clutching a bouquet of flowers after graduation. “Since finals were over, we were just waiting to take off.”
With the ceremonial moving of the tassels from left to right, the Oxnard district’s students became the last batch of Ventura County seniors to put an official end to their high school careers.
In all, the district’s five campuses--Hueneme, Adolfo Camarillo, Rio Mesa, Oxnard and Channel Islands high schools--graduated more than 2,200 seniors in separate ceremonies. In addition, there were about 95 graduates from Frontier High School, the district’s continuation school.
At Channel Island High’s football field, 490 seniors formed a sea of gold and blue, as their student speakers urged them never to lose sight of their goals and dreams, push themselves to do more, and maintain their sense of individuality.
“You must fight to be you, not something society has molded for you,” said Jeanine Hutton, the school’s valedictorian.
It’s a message that wasn’t lost on Eva Juarez, an 18-year-old who has blazed her own path during high school.
By attending summer school each year--accumulating 45 more units than required for graduation--and never missing a day in four years, Eva set a precedent in her family.
“I’m the first to graduate,” she said. “I had to show them I could do it.”
With so many credits, teachers said, Eva was spared from having to attend the additional seven days this year. But for many of those for whom attendance was mandatory, the days never seemed to end.
“I’d rather have gotten out sooner,” said 17-year-old senior Alicia King.
“Toward the end, it was hard to get out [of bed] and come, because it seemed I’ve been here forever . . . forever it seemed.”
District officials received $1.75 million from the state for the 1996-97 academic year for its push to help increase districtwide test scores, give teachers more time to present their lessons and better prepare their students for college.
Yet upperclassmen wondered how they could concentrate when they had other things to ponder: How to keep in touch with friends, prepare for graduation and, more important, what now?
“Frankly, I don’t think we learned anything more than during the normal years,” said Allison Felipe, an Oxnard High senior. “I think some people were burnt out, but they were psyched to know they didn’t have to come back.”
Next school year, the district will open its campuses in late August, a week and half earlier than usual, and end a week later than this year, bringing the total number of extra days spent in school to 15.
The district’s 13,398 students had half a day of classes Tuesday, the last day of school. This gave seniors just a few hours to prepare for their commencement.
Considering the extra school days, this year’s graduation came with a big sense of relief.
“I’m just happy,” said Rio Mesa High’s Farhaad Azimi. “I didn’t really care about going the extra days.”
At Rio Mesa’s Spartan stadium, surrounded on three sides by sun-soaked strawberry fields, teachers, family and friends spent their last moments together entertained and enlightened by poems, songs and speeches.
“You can tell by listening that students had a lot of influence over how this graduation was done,” said John Keefe, who has taught English at Rio Mesa for 27 years.z “There is a tremendous mix of kids and they get along quite well.
Senior Amy Barret spoke for many students when recalling what she’ll miss most about high school.
“The best thing about it was my friends and having great teachers,” she said.