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 receiving line.
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.