It was a moment Zeke Gavlak won’t soon forget as he presented a sign Monday to a South Pasadena High senior, pleased by the gesture of goodwill outside her home.
Gavlak, a student at the local middle school and member of Lion’s Heart, a national organization aiming to inspire teen volunteerism and leadership, was among those helping to distribute hundreds of the signs around town carrying the message: “Class of 2020 South Pasadena.”
As fears of the coronavirus continue, the high school, like thousands of others across the country, won’t be holding a traditional outdoor graduation ceremony this year, so any special offering through difficult times can make a huge and lasting impact.
“I was able to see her excitement for graduating,” said Gavlak, who was among a group of some 20 volunteers, including a group from the Lion’s Heart organization, other students and adults, tackling the effort of placing the signs on front lawns or outside apartment doors throughout the city.
“Lawn signs became popular across the country as a way to recognize the Class of 2020 that is not able to experience many of the traditions and rites of passage that other classes have always been able to enjoy,” explained South Pasadena High Principal Janet Anderson. “This is only one of the symbolic gestures we are planning to let our seniors know that we want to celebrate their achievements and their special place as the Class of 2020.”
Anderson said the signs were a surprise gift sponsored by the SPHS Senior Class.
“Judging by the beaming smiles of some of the students who saw the signs being delivered, this was a hit,” she said. “We are so proud of this group, and we will do all we can do, within limits set by the health department, to let them know that they are special to us. Our PTSA and individual parents have also been involved in creating ways to honor our graduates… Keep a look out!”
The South Pasadena High School ASB has created an Instagram account @spclassof2020 featuring seniors and their plans for next year. The new signage is part of it.
Before the school physically closed in mid-March, Anderson, SPHS Activities Director Casey Shotwell, Senior Class Advisor James Jontz, assistant principals and the senior class officers began working on what to do about some of the usual spring activities, including graduation, in an effort to come up with potential solutions to the most unusual of school years. Some of those ideas are still in the works and being finalized.
South Pasadena Board of Education member Ruby Kalra explained that the school’s PTSA, led by Laura Morales and group of committed parents determined to celebrate the local high school seniors, “have been actively meeting to create plans including purchasing a class photo banner, sidewalk chalk for each senior to create their own personal version of SPHS Chalk Day which can be shared virtually, and some type of window or car decal,” she said.
Kalra added the graduating seniors “have definitely been on all of our minds, and I do hope they know that, despite physical distancing, they are truly celebrated and cheered on by our entire South Pasadena community! The power of education lies in its ability to transform lives, and their lives have been forever transformed. Not just by the pandemic but by all they have learned, and the relationships they have built over the years – especially their relationships with their own selves, their ability to think positively, to be compassionate toward themselves and others, and to continue to strive for personal fulfillment. They carry with them resilience, hope, strength, and the power to transform other lives and the whole world. I look forward to seeing all the wonderful things they will continue to accomplish, and wish them all the best!”
Outside of his role as senior class advisor, Jontz, who wears many hats and is a favorite faculty member among SPHS students, recognizes this time of year is an especially important for those in their final year at South Pasadena High.
“When you become a senior there are so many things that you look forward to,” he said, noting everyone of the approximate 320 students in the class will receive a sign. “All those activities now are not going to happen like we would like but the senior officers, the administrators, activity director and I are doing our best to keep recognizing these senior moments, and the signs are just one way that we can say we miss them and we are thinking of them and, stay tuned – we are still working for them.”
Last year, a group of South Pasadena Middle School students, along with help from their parents, organized a chapter of Lion’s Heart, an organization celebrating 15 years of teen volunteering. Eight of its local members were out dropping off signs Monday, making the day bright for South Pasadena High seniors.
“In Lion’s Heart, we work as a group to help our community,” said Sawyer Fox, a member of the group. His sister, Cole, was a princess in the 2020 Tournament of Roses Royal Court and is a South Pasadena High senior. “We’ve handed out programs at the 5th grade musical, worked the science fair at Marengo (Elementary School) and cleaned up Garfield Park. During the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve tried to do things to help those in need, like becoming pen pals with senior citizens and collecting items for toiletry kits.”
He said it was “really fun to see my friends in Lion’s Heart deliver SPHS senior yard signs, because my sister is graduating.”
For Griffin Johnson, Lion’s Heart provides a key role for young teens to lend a hand to those in need, noting he likes the organization “because I get to be with my friends helping my community,” he said. “Volunteering is important. I liked making toiletry kits for the Downtown Women Center because we take for granted that we get to shower everyday.”
Volunteering and giving back is what it’s all about for Keeran Murray, at the frontlines when it came to distributing lawn signs and bringing happiness to others. “I enjoy being a member of Lion’s Heart because I believe it is a great way to help others,” he added. “I believe what we are doing is helping put smiles on people’s faces.”
Like the SPHS seniors, who were on the receiving end of South Pasadena High’s act of kindness this week.