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An Empty Corral
Reporter’s Notebook 5-27-20
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For the first time in known community history The Corral was empty last Friday – graduation – night. The hometown field of the Oakdale Mustangs barren of red caps and gowns, the stands … Empty.

As the local media source it was a historical moment, as generations upon generations have paraded past the packed stands to the cheers of family, friends and loved ones. Yet this story is not yet over.

As journalists we are trained to deal in facts not assumption. As social media grows as the source for “facts,” as trained professionals we continue to be challenged to decipher the difference between assumption, perception and fact.

That’s where I found myself early last week, as Superintendent Marc Malone and the Oakdale Joint Unified School Board became the focus of community members’ criticism and crucifixion. To some that may seem an overstatement, yet as a person who has shared Malone’s position on graduation here in these pages since the early days of COVID, I couldn’t help see it any other way.

Malone himself is an OHS alum, as are a number of district employees, as well as school board members. To say that the team appointed to serve our district took the celebration of the Class of 2020 lightly would be misinformed.

I still recall a conversation with Malone in mid-March as we spoke of the transition Oakdale students, staff and parents would navigate amidst the shelter in place. As the superintendent shared the importance of students having tools and resources to maintain routine in education, his focus was the Class of 2020.

In conversations which followed (and there were many), the Class of 2020 remained at the forefront of our meetings. As the father of OHS graduates, with grandchildren to someday follow, Malone understood not just the value, but the importance of hosting an Oakdale tradition – a Corral graduation.

As with everything during COVID-19, this is uncharted territory, yet somehow when emotions kick in, even the most rational lose sight of this and quickly begin pointing fingers, creating rumors or better yet, develop petitions demanding something which is already in the plans.

Upon seeing the petition demanding an OHS Class of 2020 graduation, I did what journalists do, I contacted Malone. His reply left little surprise, he too was puzzled by the petition as the district remains committed to hosting a graduation as soon as the county lifts the guidelines for such an event to be hosted.

Could OJUSD have followed suit with other schools and hosted a modified graduation with minimal crowd, a walk through the gym and a cheer from the staff amidst the distance – of course they could. From where I sit however, this was not a case of the district intentionally depriving the community of an event which means so much to so many, but one of which they were criticized for wanting something more for the graduating student body.

I’m not the parent of an Oakdale senior and I’m more than certain that these views will be appreciated by very few and that’s okay.

I am however a member of this community and a parent of children educated in Oakdale schools. Nine years ago I had the option to leave the 95361 and call a new place home … I couldn’t. The love, support and education my children receive in this community made the cost of staying worth every penny.

Do I feel it’s unfortunate that our seniors missed being on the field and under the lights last Friday? Of course I do. Yet I also think, that had our district leader as well as our board had the opportunity to make it different, it would be so.

At last contact, Malone shared that there were no current October graduation plans in place. The current goal would be June, if guidelines allow. Is that ideal, of course not – but it’s something.

So for those in disagreement with the journalist perspective, I respect that. My question to the critic however would be, what proactive approach did you make to try and be a contributor to the solution (a petition doesn’t count).

Since his tenure as school superintendent, Malone has maintained an open door policy. I can’t help but wonder how many took a break from social media to take advantage of this opportunity in a constructive manner.

Personally, I’m sorry Class of 2020. I’ve stood on that field capturing images and listening to speeches more than a dozen times in my career, so yes indeed Friday night was a bit, well … weird. Yet isn’t that the buzz word (among many) of COVID-19, it’s all just weird.

As for me, I’ll maintain my belief in the team appointed to lead our district and mostly, I hope to see you all in June (worst case July). Cheers to you graduates and here’s to getting your moment soon.

 

Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at thammond@oakdaleleader.com or by calling 847-3021.