After year apart, Oakland high school students finally meet at graduation only to say goodbye

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As far as high school reunions go, McClymonds High School has never seen one like this one.

The legendary Oakland school, which holds one of the largest alumni gatherings each year at de Fremery Park, organized a bittersweet in-person graduation ceremony for the 2021 graduates at its football field.

"This is my first time seeing all the seniors. It is my first and last time unfortunately," said graduating senior Ashala Jones, who was happily admiring her classmates, some of whom she had not seen in 15 months when the pandemic forced everyone to distance learning.

While lower grades had been able to return to the classroom, Oakland Unified School District did not allow high schools to resume in-person instruction this year.

But with dropping infection rates in Alameda County, the district decided it would allow high schools to hold in-person graduations for seniors.

"We ain't seen each other in over a year. I really miss these guys. I'm just glad I get to see these guys one more time," said graduating senior Keyshaun Dollar.

Each student was only able to invite two guests to the graduation, but that didn't deter other family members and friends from standing on top of cars to peek over the fence surrounding the football field to cheer on the graduates.

"It was an uphill battle. None of us have experienced this before so we were learning as we were going along," said Sharon Williams.

Her daughter, Shauntiara Williams, saw her grades drop significantly during her senior year as the pandemic began to take a mental toll.

Williams said she had trouble getting out of bed even to go eat. She eventually recovered, got her grades back up and will be attending UCLA this fall.

Not everyone was as lucky.

"The pandemic definitely affected the graduation rate," said Colleen Piper, College and Career Readiness Manager at McClymonds.

The school typically has a graduation rate near 98%, but this year only about 67 of the 75 seniors are getting a diploma. Piper said the others will take make-up classes this summer and graduate in a few months.

Things are expected to return to almost normal for next year's graduating class.

McClymonds will have in-person summer school and the expectation is that all students that want to will return to the classroom this fall.
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