The Oakdale High School Class of 2020 will not be one easily forgotten. The class which was born months following the changing of the world, post 9/11 is now also known as the “Class of COVID-19.”
As their final months of campus time were taken away, traditions bypassed and campus time came to a halt the community, parent volunteers, as well as OHS staff did all they could to create memorable moments.
While many of the end of year activities were changed, a few traditions were maintained: scholarships were still awarded and the prestigious honor of Valedictorian and Salutatorian still presented.
For Valedictorian Cael Black, the academic achievement became a goal set in his junior high years. The OHS graduate shared after receiving straight A’s his first year at Oakdale Junior High, he felt it was a doable achievement.
“I’m very competitive when it comes to academics,” Black said, noting he was “pretty thrilled” at learning of the accomplishment.
“It was definitely an honor when I learned I got that title,” he continued, “when the other people I knew I was competing (with) were so incredibly talented and worked so hard.”
Salutatorian Alyssa Castano, however, found her way to the honor along a bit of a different path. The OHS graduate shared the achievement wasn’t a goal. She simply chose classes that would challenge her. That decision, as well as a commitment to her academics placed her in the esteemed company of Black, as the two keynote speakers for the graduating class.
As the district looks forward to the possibility of a traditional late July graduation, the two shared they continue to give thought to the speech they will deliver (live or virtually). In the meantime, however, life goes forward as the two scholars look to their future beyond OHS.
Currently Black is spending the summer in Maryland working alongside his brother to earn money for college. In the fall the Valedictorian will enter a two-year mission with The Church of Latter Day Saints. Upon completion of his mission commitment, he will attend Brigham Young University and pursue a major in engineering.
“I’ve just always loved solving problems. I’m definitely a math guy,” he said of his interest in the engineering field.
Salutatorian Castano now looks forward to her plans of attending Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where she will major in architecture. The scholar was also accepted to UC Berkeley and UCLA, making the decision a bit challenging.
“I decided on Cal Poly ultimately, because their “learn by doing” philosophy felt like it would better prepare me for the future,” Castano said of entering the five-year Architecture program. The graduate noted she also spent a lot of time in the area as a child, creating a comfort with the area.
“I feel really comfortable with where I’m going and I’ve talked to my roommate a lot, so I feel like we’re already friends,” she continued. “So I don’t think that transition’s going to be too bad.”
Castano’s major, however, found her amidst the middle of her senior year as she found herself pulled toward architecture and away from her long time aspirations of original plans to major in something scientific, like biology.
“This year I decided to take AP Art History and it kind of changed my perspective on things. It wasn’t planned, but I’m glad that it worked out,” she said of her major change.
The senior class scholars each acknowledge their final moments of OHS were far from what they may have imagined in the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, yet they are grateful for the way in which it was handled.
“I really appreciate all they’ve done, it’s kind of weird not having a normal graduation and I’m a little disappointed I wasn’t able to give a speech,” Black said, as specifics of graduation remain up in the air. “But it’s also taken a load of stress off. All around I’m just really happy with how our school is handling it, they’re trying really hard. That means a lot to us.”
Castano noted initial feelings of disappointment, then realizing there wasn’t anything that could be done, she used the opportunity to look at other things in a positive way.
Both graduates acknowledged appreciation for the inaugural Senior Week spearheaded by parent volunteers, as local businesses honored and celebrated the Class of 2020.
“We have such a wonderful community,” Black said. “I know I always want to live in a small town after growing up in Oakdale. We have great teachers, everybody felt so close at that school.”
Looking ahead and reflecting on a year which one could never have predicted or seen coming, Castano offers advice for future seniors.
“I would just say for seniors next year, you might think you know what you want to do, but you probably don’t know and you’re probably going to change, so don’t stress about it,” she offered from personal experience.
As he moves forward, Black acknowledges that he will miss the people, friends and community of Oakdale.
“Shout out to the administration of Oakdale,” he stated. “We all appreciate what you guys are trying to do; it means the world to us. Thanks for the good years we had.”