By Shelley Murphy
A few weeks ago, I received an email in my inbox that several years ago I could have sent. The subject line read: SCHS registration. The message, forwarded by a friend, sought volunteers for San Clemente High School’s upcoming in-person annual registration event.
It’s been years since my sons attended our hometown high school, but I enjoy volunteering and welcomed the chance to return to the campus.
I must admit, I didn’t always champion the school. When we moved to town more than 25 years ago, the school’s tarnished curb appeal and faded facade frightened me. My boys were babies, but I couldn’t fathom sending them into the austere concrete compound.
My husband, however, remained steadfast in his conviction that our sons attend SCHS. I hate to admit when my husband is right, but he was; both my boys are better for having attended our hometown high school.
Once again, sitting in the Triton Center, I reflected on the wonderful years my boys spent at SCHS. As my mind wandered, it dawned on me that next year marks 10 years since my older son’s graduation. Ouch!
On the first day of registration, seniors meandered through the maze of tables to submit school forms and pick up class schedules. During the lulls between waves of incoming students and inquiring parents, I started a conversation with a friendly mom at the adjacent station.
My fellow volunteer commanded the Grad Night table—it’s the senior graduation night party put on by parents in the school’s decked-out gym to keep graduates safe while celebrating.
I heard her fielding questions from parents asking about refunds for Grad Night tickets they’d purchased last August. My heart broke, again, as I listened to parents recount the pain the pandemic lockdown put on their teens.
In March 2020, when schools closed amid chaos and confusion, distance learning was considered temporary. The unsuspecting senior class leaving campus could not know that they had just attended their last day of high school.
After an 18-month absence, it’s not surprising the students returning to campus classrooms this year are feeling more than butterflies as they trade beach bags for backpacks.
Students derailed by the pandemic are dusting off rusty skills as they face the reality of reacclimating to educational, emotional, and social standards in classrooms—while also navigating a nationwide surge of the Delta variant.
But, amid concerns as schools reopen, there is renewed hope on the horizon.
In my brief time on campus, I witnessed the excitement of faculty and staff welcoming returning students back to school.
I watched as spirited student leaders showcased this year’s theme for homecoming—Triton Travel. Each grade is representing one of four fun destinations (New York, Hawaii, Texas and California) at the annual parade, football game and school dance.
As the new school year commences, I hold my breath and pray plans proceed for traditional schoolwide dances, athletic rivalries, spirit assemblies, theater productions, music competitions, club rushes and more.
I hope seniors see the return of all the memorable milestones marking their last year of high school.
I remember when my sons were high school seniors and, on the first day of school, they participated in the SCHS traditional Senior Sunrise. Before school, seniors gather on the beach to receive a colorful, albeit artificial, lei to wear that first day of school.
After a day spent wearing the flowers around their necks, seniors then drape the leis from their cars’ rearview mirrors, where they hang until graduation.
I can’t wait to see the vibrant multicolored leis replace the listless dreary face masks currently visible through car windshields.
This year, the tradition of back to school takes on new meaning due to the pandemic. Some of the students returning to campus this week may feel a bit nostalgic, as if they’re walking down memory lane—I know, I sure did.
For more than 20 years, Shelley Murphy and her husband have lived in San Clemente, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.