Estancia High Eagles class of 2020 takes flight in grad broadcast with live-cam watch parties

Estancia High graduate Michael Finicum watched the ceremony on television at home in Costa Mesa.
Estancia High School graduate Michael Finicum watched the broadcast commencement ceremony on television at home in Costa Mesa on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

The Estancia High School Eagles with the class of 2020 took flight Wednesday, celebrating years of friendships, hardships and accomplishments as they collectively participated in a virtual commencement broadcast from their respective homes.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic did little to dampen the spirits of the more than 650 viewers who tuned into the virtual event, which made use of prerecorded speeches, performances and live-cam peeks into the homes of students and families as they watched.

Among the virtual audience members was senior Michael Finicum, 18, who viewed the livestream broadcast in a small at-home watch party alongside mom Dawn — not exactly the magnificent sendoff he’d imagined.

Estancia High School's virtual graduation ceremony Wednesday included live-cam footage of seniors' home watch parties.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

The pair participated in a May 26 demonstration outside Newport-Mesa Unified School District headquarters in a plea to school board members to organize some kind of in-person ceremony, as opposed to a prerecorded broadcast.

When district officials cited health and safety concerns among the reasons for sticking with the broadcast, several parents began organizing grassroots efforts on their own.

Honoring this year’s graduating seniors from high schools in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Laguna Beach and other parts of Orange County.

One — a districtwide parade for all graduating seniors — drew hundreds of participants, including Costa Mesa city officials, from Newport Harbor Elementary School to Estancia. Finicum and his friends rode in a decorated jeep representing their school.

“We wanted a moment that we could all remember, where we could all be together,” the teen said of his participation in the protest. “[The broadcast] is an attempt for Estancia to try and show their appreciation for their students, and that’s really the best they can do.”

Estancia High School Principal Michael Halt
Estancia High School Principal Michael Halt addressed graduating seniors Wednesday in a commencement broadcast recognizing the class of 2020.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

In remarks made from his own home, Estancia Principal Michael Halt offered three pieces of advice for soon-to-be graduates.

“Continue to challenge yourself by always working to the best of your abilities, love with all your heart and vote in every election,” he said. “These three simple things I’m convinced are the keys to creating stronger families, tighter communities and a much better nation — and we’re counting on your to help us deliver on all three.”

Making Estancia history as the school’s first student emcee, senior Kurt Melvin Ventura peered into the virtual audience and imagined who he saw there.

Estancia High senior Kurt Melvin Ventura
Estancia High School senior Kurt Melvin Ventura was the school’s first student emcee Wednesday during a virtual commencement ceremony honoring the class of 2020.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

“I see the future. I see politicians, entrepreneurs, global leaders, musicians, artists, performers, inspiring role models and just all-around amazing human beings,” he said. “While our paths may go different directions, we will always have something in common — we will always be eagles and we will always stay flying.”

Reflecting on the high emotions of the past couple months and her son’s “unprecedented” walk-up to graduation, Dawn Finicum had to admit this year’s collection of graduation festivities will not soon be forgotten.

“Even though we weren’t successful in getting them an in-person graduation, or even a drive-through one, they’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives,” she said. “They’ll remember this forever, and they’ll know we tried.”

Estancia High graduate Michael Finicum
Estancia High School graduate Michael Finicum watched the broadcast commencement ceremony on television at home in Costa Mesa on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

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