When the COVID-19 pandemic caused an abrupt end to physical classes at schools last month, it also put into jeopardy many other school-related activities, including this summer’s planned graduations.
While a lot remains unknown about how those events ultimately will play out, administrators at Lompoc High School already have found ways to thank and honor the Braves’ Class of 2020.
Principal Paul Bommersbach began work late last week on a mural on the southern wall of the Lompoc High gym that includes the names of the 360 members of this year’s senior class, as well as a couple messages of support for the class.
That move is in addition to a large banner that the school has begun publicly displaying around the city to congratulate prospective graduates on their accomplishments, despite what turned out to be an abbreviated final year spent in the classroom.
While Bommersbach noted that he takes pride in all of the school’s graduating classes, he acknowledged that this year’s group carries added personal sentiment. One of the members of the class, and one of the people who helped him complete the senior mural, is his daughter, Amy Bommersbach.
“I wanted this to be special for these kids, whether [Amy’s] part of it or not, but it is personal,” he said.
Although the staff and volunteers of the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center will continue their work — even if much of it has been altered — they find themselves in a similar position as many local nonprofits amid this coronavirus crisis: Doing what they can to make it through an unprecedented global event while facing a largely uncertain future.
“As a principal, it's tough,” he added. “I think we've all worked harder than we have before, you know, trying to make it work for the kids.”
The idea for the mural came from Claudia Terrones, a teacher who also serves as the school’s athletic director.
Like Bommersbach, Terrones also has a child — her son, Ryan Morgan — in the Braves’ Class of 2020. Also like Bommersbach, Terrones said she has spent a lot of effort trying to stay upbeat and give this year’s graduating class a memorable sendoff.
She admits, however, that hasn’t come easy.
“It's pretty emotional for us,” she said, including Bommersbach, whom she counts among her best friends. “I think we're more emotional than the kids are because a lot of stuff has been taken away [from them], but we're trying to look at the positive side and trying to come up with all kinds of ideas that we can still give them hope and give them, you know, something, because they have worked really hard their whole lives to get to this point.”
Bommersbach, who started work on the mural on April 9 and completed it the next day, said he intends to leave the display up at least through the next academic year.
The principal said he had recently purchased blue paint that he used to decorate a wall in his garage with logos of his favorite sports teams. Despite those logos being heavy on the color blue — thanks to his fandom of teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dallas Cowboys and, of course, Lompoc Braves — he still had enough left over to stencil large letters over the mural that spell out most of the word “SENIORS.”
The event was held, according to a Lompoc Unified School District spokeswoman, as a way for the employees "to show the students and their families that although they may not be at the school with them, they still care."
Along with the names of the seniors, the mural also notes that it is in memory of Christany Charco Ibarra, who was described by police as an innocent bystander when she was shot and killed in March 2019 at the age of 17.
The artwork also includes the hashtags “#WeWillRise” and “#NotForgotten.”
Amy Bommersbach said she appreciated the efforts of the Lompoc High staff in recognizing this year’s seniors.
“I know that our teachers and administrators are all doing the best they can to give us that hope that we need,” she said.
The principal said he would like to be able to open the gym, after the coronavirus crisis has calmed down, for students and parents to be able to go look at the mural and pose for photos with it.
There is also a chance that the students still will be able to have a traditional graduation, he noted.
Bommersbach said he is part of a team with other principals and administrators in Lompoc Unified School District that is working to come up with a plan for potential graduation ceremonies. The Lompoc and Cabrillo high school 2020 commencement ceremonies had been scheduled for June 4.
That date is still in play, but LUSD leaders are also exploring alternate possibilities, like virtual ceremonies or physical ceremonies at later dates or different locations.
Additionally, Bommersbach said, LUSD plans to reach out to students, parents and school staffers to get input on future plans.
“This is new for everybody and none of us have experience in this, so there's some great ideas that Claudia has seen online and that I’ve received in emails from other parents,” Bommersbach said. “We don't know what [graduations are] going to look like, so we want to look at all ideas. It's going to take a team or a village, and we have a perfect team and village to make this happen.”