Caps, Gowns, and Admiration

Families and supporters join students for Special Education Programs Commencement Ceremony

Family members, staffers, and others joining students at the 2018 Special Education Programs Commencement Ceremony had decked the conference room at the SJCOE with cake, bunches of flowers, and bundles of balloons to present to the graduates.

They also brought with them their love and support for the graduates as well as a spirit of celebration and admiration for everything the students had accomplished.

"We came a long way in four years," said Theresa Oertwig, whose son Johnson had been in SJCOE Special Education Programs for four years after graduating high school. "Look at him now."

The SJCOE teachers gave Johnson and his family the guidance, support, and tools to help him continue growing, she said. Together, they had been able to address some behavioral problems, she said. "We are so proud today, of the teachers, of him, of us." The family planned to all go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to celebrate.

Johnson was one of the approximately 20 students to graduate from SJCOE and Tracy Unified School District special education programs. Many of the students attended the commencement ceremony on May 23. Students graduate when the reach the age of 22, the maximum age to receive public education. The ceremony marked the ending of this part of the lives of students and the beginning of the next.

It is a recognition of that transition, said Brandie Brunni, SJCOE special education division director. "And we want to celebrate their achievements over the years."

Brunni, along with San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools James Mousalimas and Tracy Unified Superintendent Brian Stephenson, presented certificates to each of the graduates.

Next, the family members, staffers, and supporters who had been by the side of those graduates sat together to view a series of photo montages, one for each graduate. The crowd chuckled or cheered at times through the photos, that included baby pictures, graduation photos, and everything in between. They watched, remembered, and thought about the future.

The ceremony ended with students dancing back up the aisle to share cake with their families.

It wasn't the only commencement ceremony for students in SJCOE Special Education Programs.

At McFall School that same morning, preschoolers from the Connections! program celebrated their own transition.

They marched in and took their seats on chairs on the lawn that came up to the knees of the teachers and instructional assistants who helped the graduates out during the ceremony.

Parents took pictures and video while the preschoolers sang songs and took their turn to grab their ceremonial diploma from their teachers, who waited for them with a celebratory high-five.


Posted: 5/29/2018