Graduation Parade

Students in SJCOE and Tracy Unified special education programs celebrate

Graduates start your engines!

This year family members, staffers and other supporters of students honored at the Special Education Programs Commencement Ceremony celebrated in a vehicle parade in a solar parking lot on the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) campus in Stockton.

The less-than two dozen vehicles were in a three-lap procession around the parking lot that passed by teachers, instructional assistants, related service providers, and others who came to celebrate the students by cheering and waving signs.

"You will always hold a special place in our hearts. You will always be a part of our SJCOE family," said Natalie Dragoo, an SJCOE special education coordinator who started off the ceremony with a short speech using the public address system set up in the lot for the occasion.

Then the three-lap parade began.

The first lap warmed up parade participants and spectators to strains of "Uptown Funk." The students -- wearing bright blue caps, floral garlands, and other graduation accessories -- waved from open windows in vehicles they shared with their families.

On the second lap, the music changed to traditional Pomp and Circumstance graduation marching music. Acting as emcee, SJCOE teacher Gina Berlin announced each graduate as they passed by.

The third lap brought it all home. Parade organizers switched the music to Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" and switched on bubble makers that carried bubbles into the staff members from SJCOE, Tracy Unified School District, and Valley Mountain Regional Center. They kept their distance from each other while they danced and shouted while waving homemade signs.

The annual commencement ceremony celebrates students in both SJCOE and Tracy Unified School District young adult programs. Students graduate when the reach the age of 22, the maximum age to receive public education. For many families, graduation marks the end of a years-long relationship with their programs.

That is one reason why it was important to hold the vehicle parade at the end of the school year instead of waiting until large gatherings are once again allowed, said SJCOE Special Education Division Director Monica Filoso.

The signs being waved at the parade were made by teachers and staff. Sandy Elliott, a teacher at SJCOE's Marina Young Adult, had made a sign for Luke Paquet.

It had a picture of graduate Luke Paquet in his cap and gown, as well as a pictures of the Sacramento Kings; Dunkson, the mascot of the Stockton Kings basketball team; and a logo of the San Francisco 49ers. These were part of a larger collage of images of everything from schools to snacks Elliott had put on the sign under the word: "Celebrate."

Luke said that the poster was filled with pictures of his favorite things, and he planned to hang it up in his room at home. He said he loved the parade, too.

"I feel great. Even though it is a difficult time, I'm glad I came out here," he said.

Laurie Paquet, his mother, agreed, and praised the educators who planned it.

"They did so much for these kids. They worked so hard," she said. "The team is awesome."

Posted: 5/22/2020