Montserrat Lomeli will have a “drive-thru” graduation at V.I.S.A. On June 18

June 18 was supposed to be one of the greatest days in Montserrat Lomeli’s young life.

She would be turning 18, becoming an adult. She would also be walking across the stage before her parents, friends and classmates as the first in her family to graduate from high school.

But the coronavirus pandemic has altered those plans.

Instead of a traditional ceremony, the graduating student from the Vaughn International Studies Academy (VISA), which is a part of a cluster of charter schools in Pacoima, will be having a drive-thru graduation.

“You drive through the street and your teacher will give you your diploma,” Lomeli said. She said it’s her understanding that students would be able to get out of the cars and take a photo with their teachers, but the final details had not been revealed.

Still, “I did feel cheated,” Lomeli admits by a pandemic, which has restricted large gatherings for fear of contagion, and is causing her to miss some of the moments and traditions that are synonymous with the last year of high school.

Gone is Grad Night, when students go overnight to a theme park. So is this year’s high school prom, and the graduations in cap and gown before hundreds of cheering people in a stadium.

Lomeli says when schools were closed in March, many of her classmates still expected they could come back before the end of the year.

But she said, “I knew we were not going to comeback. I was being realistic.

“The first week I came to terms (with it being the end of the school semester) very quickly,” she adds.

Day to Day

Lomeli said she continued learning online. She’s already taken her AP Calculus exam, but due to technical difficulties even that is mired in uncertainty. She might have to take it again.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, Lomeli takes history and English classes. Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to studying Science and Chinese.

She also tutors one of her young cousins.

This differs greatly with what she thought her last year of high school would be like.

“It was [supposed to be] about making memories, going to a lot of places with my friends. I was very excited,” she said. “Prom and graduation were going to be such a big deal.”

But she’s come to terms with the current situation.

“I took a step back and thought. ‘There’s nothing I could do’ and we’re doing this so more people don’t get affected,” Lomeli said.

The senior and her friends are adapting. Lomeli recently had a social-distancing picnic at her best friend’s house. They both wore face masks. And in mid May, she and a few of her friends got dressed up and gathered at a home to celebrate a mini-prom.

The pandemic even impacted her college plans. Lomeli had been accepted to Humboldt State University in Northern California, but -— given the circumstances and some family issues — decided to stay home and attend College of the Canyons instead.

Her first semester there will be online classes as well. After finishing at College of the Canyons, the plan is to transfer to San Diego State and graduate with a degree in History.

After analyzing her options, it’s the best thing to do right now.

“There’s nothing I can do,” repeats Lomeli, in coming to terms with the pandemic limitations. “It’s the best way to handle things right now.”

Online Graduations 

At least Lomeli has some semblance of a graduation to look forward to.

Monserrat Lopez, who attends the Cesar Chavez Learning Academies in San Fernando, won’t even be in town for her graduation today, May 28, which will be completely online.

“We’re having a virtual graduation,” Lopez said. “They’re going to do a Zoom meeting and we’re going to join in. They’re going to recognize who’s graduating, where they’re going and what their plans are.

“Then they’re going to give us a specific date to get our diplomas and we’re going to turn in our

ipads and books,” she adds, without hiding that she “was a little disappointed.”

“Everyone dreams of walking on a stage,” Lopez said. “But we can’t control this and I understand. But it’s still upsetting not having that special moment.

“I’m going to watch the Zoom meeting and I’ll call my friends after,” she said.

Like Lomeli, Lopez has come to terms with the circumstances. But she doesn’t deny that “it was hard when we realized we’re not going to experience prom and a normal graduation.”

Some of her friends have tried to make some memories the best way possible. “[They] got ready as if they were going to prom and took pictures with their family,” she said.

But Lopez, still, feels “cheated.”

“It was sad, but it happened already,” she said. “This has taught us a lot how to appreciate what we have. We all thought we were all going to experience Grad Night, prom, graduation. But it taught us not to take anything for granted, that we have to enjoy what we have.”

Lopez wants to be a social worker and plans to attend Mount St. Mary’s University. Whether there will be actual classroom instruction or online study is something she still doesn’t know.

If it’s virtual classes like her last high school semester, “It’s going to be weird because it’s my first year in college. It’s kind of hard getting used to, it brings another level of difficulty. It’s scary but we got through this and everything has its solution.”

Lopez admits she’s not a fan of online classes.

“I’m a better learner in the classroom. Virtual classes are not for me. It’s weird not having the teacher there that you can go to,” she said.

Both Lopez and Lomeli agree that the 2020 high school graduation class will be marked forever by the pandemic.

“The class of 2020 will have a different experience (than previous graduation classes) since we didn’t have the traditional right of passage,” Lomeli said.

But Lopez adds that the situation has taught her to value even more those memories she made over the last four years of high school.

Despite everything, “I enjoyed my senior year and the little moments I had with my friends,” she said.