Sunday, June 17, 2018

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Health Sciences High and Middle College rehearse for graduation at SDSU's Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre. Health Sciences High and Middle College rehearse for graduation at SDSU's Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre.
 


Walking the Big Stage

Local high schools turn to SDSU to host their graduation ceremonies.
By Jeff Ristine
 

“The arena captures the congratulatory uproar and echoes it back throughout the ceremony.”

Each year, hundreds of graduating students experience the thrill of crossing a stage at San Diego State University’s Viejas Arena to the cheers of their families and friends—not after earning college degrees, but as participants in an especially memorable high school ceremony.

About a month after SDSU’s spring graduating class holds its commencements, the university hosts a number of more intimate high school events at Viejas Arena and the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre. It’s the same mix of giddy students, foil balloons, fresh bouquets and proud  parents, just with a younger set of seniors. Many of them have never set foot on the campus before.

“It felt like one big hoorah,” said SDSU student Leanna Mae Dumenden, part of a Mira Mesa High graduating class of 2017 that borrowed the vast arena while the high school football stadium was under renovation. “The arena captures the congratulatory uproar and echoes it back throughout the ceremony.”

Home away from home

This year, Health Sciences High and Middle College, a charter school located in San Diego’s City Heights community, is holding its ninth graduation ceremony and promotion for middle school at the Open Air Theatre on Tuesday, June 12. About 150 graduates will be honored, including some who have enrolled at SDSU for the fall.

Three SDSU professors co-founded the charter school and maintain active roles along with three other faculty members, so “this is a home away from home for us,” said principal Sheri Johnson.

Viejas Arena and the Open Air Theatre are operated by SDSU’s Associated Students. Tim Ripke, director of both venues, said Viejas Arena can be a welcome alternative to sunbaked football stadiums, where students, their families, and school officials may sit in high temperatures for an hour or longer.

Health Sciences High cannot accommodate hundreds of guests on its own grounds, and Johnson said holding graduation at SDSU makes her students “feel special and part of the larger community.”

Similarly, Ripke said the campus location appeals to “a certain nostalgia and a certain feeling that the community here in San Diego has for San Diego State.”

Nothing but joy

SDSU recovers its costs for the events, based partly on features for the ceremony selected by the school—whether the arena’s large overhead video screen is used (and if so, how many cameras are involved), and whether  the participants require any special equipment, such as risers.

Ripke said the Viejas staff meets with student leaders before the event to provide feedback on what they’d like to see on the big day. “It’s fun to see them and feel their excitement,” he said.

It has been three years since John Lim crossed the Viejas Arena stage with the Morse High School Class of 2015, but like Dumenden, one of his sharpest memories of that day is the roar of the crowd.

“As soon as we walked through the hallway and into the actual arena, we were bombarded with cheers from our families, flashes from their phones, and an overall congratulatory atmosphere,” said Lim, now studying computer science at SDSU. “I've walked on that floor before and (have) seen the arena when it's been fully lit, but this time it seemed the arena grew in size.”

For all the educational challenges that were still to come, Lim said, “I remember walking onto that stage feeling nothing but joy.”