Excerpt from an interview with:Paul Belomy
INTERVIEWER: Cuba Miller
DATE: June 12 and July 11, 2001
CM: I know you did have very elaborate graduations. Do you want to talk
about your graduations?
PB: Yes. I always wanted to have graduations with cap and gown for adults.
I know a lot of districts didn't do that, and it probably had to do with
the numbers, that they didn't have sufficiently large numbers. But from
the very beginning when we thought we were going to have maybe sixty graduates,
we decided to do cap and gowns with the dark blue cap and gowns with a white
tassel or a blue tassel, depending on female or male. And we did it in the
gym. The gym would be filled. We'd have probably eighteen hundred people
in the gym. [We] sat twelve hundred in the bleachers. And then we put up
chairs on the floor for [the public]. One of the closed schools had a portable
stage that was about twenty-by-twenty, and it was on wheels, folded up like
an accordion. We talked somebody out of that and put that in the gym, and
that became our stage for graduation. It was great. And for many years —
I can't tell you exactly how many, but for many years — every single
board member came to the graduation and was on the stage and stood in the
CM: That's great.
PB: Yes, that was good.
CM: And that shows real support for your program.
PB: They were very, very supportive. And that tradition has continued.
I talked to the director recently, and the same thing, all the board members
showed up again. And they love it. They love it. Because it's a very personalized
graduation, because even though we have a hundred and fifty or a hundred
and sixty graduates, we still try to say something personal about each one
of them so that when they hand us their three-by-five card with their name
on it, there is a personalized statement from them and from us to them.
Usually they thank a teacher or the school or their parents, and we thank
them for whatever they did in terms of being one of our students.
CM: Did you have speakers at graduation?
PB: Oh, yes. We've had the mayor, and we've had — you name it,
we've had (chuckles) as many people as we could get in to be speakers.
CM: And student speeches as well?
PB: Yes. Two or three student speeches.
CM: The whole thing.
PB: And it was interesting because there was usually an ESL contingent
that had finished ESL, gone through the diploma program, and they would
be one of the speakers. Then there was the young parents' center, the pregnant
minors, who had gone through the diploma program, and they would be one
of the speakers. And then we would have one of the students from just the
regular high school program for adults. We had a lot of unique things happen.
Once we had the grandmother, the mother, and the son all graduating on the
same stage at the same time.
CM: Oh, my goodness!
PB: Which is kind of unique.
CM: You must have gotten lots of publicity out of that.
PB: Susan Caruthers was our public relations person, and she would call
Rico Chacon and all these people that she knew, and they would swarm us
at night on graduation night. The channels were vying with each other to
see who could get the most footage