Jewish Community High School of the Bay graduation at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco in 2019. (Photos/Barbara Butkus Photography)
Jewish Community High School of the Bay graduation at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco in 2019. (Photos/Barbara Butkus Photography)

This year we really mean ‘salute to grads’

This week’s print edition of J. includes our annual “Salute to Grads” section, featuring congratulatory ads from local Jewish schools and related stories. The section carries a special poignancy this year, particularly for high school seniors who were denied the usual experiences American teens look forward to — and look back on — from homecoming to prom to simply being with their peers in the classroom.

Some high schools, including Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto and Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, did allow students back in the classroom for part of the year. But no one pretended it was the same as a “normal” year. Masks, distancing, restrictions on clubs and after-school events and myriad other safety measures ensured that.

Prom was a bust this year as well. The city of San Francisco declared a ban on “dancing in the traditional sense,” which meant no holding your partner close. High schools within the San Francisco Unified School District responded by canceling proms altogether, substituting other in-person events.

Other schools and cities responded differently. Notre Dame High School, an all-girls school in San Jose, held an outdoor “prom” for juniors and seniors at History Park San Jose, with dancing and lawn games and trolley rides, although students wore masks and couldn’t bring dates. Downtown Pleasanton opened its streets to graduating seniors from three local high schools; they were invited to stroll together in their gowns and tuxes. And at least one school, Lincoln High in San Jose, parents decided to throw their own prom for the new graduates.

None of it is the same. But students interviewed at some of these alternative events put a brave face on things. They smiled, they spoke about how happy they were to see each other again. They took selfies with their friends, they laughed and joked together.

Like last year, our Bay Area Jewish schools once again are holding creative graduation ceremonies, as we describe in our story this week. With more time to plan than in 2020, they want to make sure their middle-school and high-school graduates have a day to remember.

We also checked in with some students we featured last May as they were about to graduate, worried that their college or gap-year plans would be derailed. All of them managed to enjoy worthwhile experiences, either on campus, on a kibbutz or via social-action projects.

The optimism and can-do attitudes our young people are demonstrating is heartwarming. It’s been hard on them, we know. We salute you, class of 2021! May you go from strength to strength.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens editorials as the voice of J.