Celebrating milestones amid the coronavirus pandemic

Becca and Stephen White wear protective gear representing their at-home wedding held during the COVID-19 lockdown. Courtesy of the Whites.
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The novel coronavirus pandemic has temporarily shut down school campuses, concert halls, park facilities and everything in between where communities have congregated to celebrate some of the most important milestones in their loved ones’ lives. 

From graduations to weddings and birthdays, residents in the Santa Clarita Valley are among the millions more nationwide who are still toasting to these important moments — albeit with a twist and a lot of physical distancing. 

Turning the tassel 

Local schools closed down more than a month ago in the SCV in an effort to keep students safe and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, meaning all graduations are going virtual. 

That’s the case for all campuses in the William S. Hart Union High School District, where officials recently said they are postponing in-person ceremonies for a later time. 

While many parents await a final decision by the district, the community has already come together to celebrate local high school seniors and their success in completing high school. 

Among the many high school seniors honored is Ricardo Yoingco, 17, of Golden Valley High School. 

Golden Valley High School senior Ricardo Yoingco holds his 1971 Elton John album gifted by his school librarian in celebration of completing high school. Courtesy photo of Yoingco

He was recently surprised at his doorstep with gifts and a “Congrats!” balloon delivered by a local resident disguised in an inflatable dinosaur costume. The surprise was one of many that are part of a community-wide effort, dubbed “Adopt a 2020 High School Senior in the SCV” on social media, where parents submit photos of their soon-to-be graduates and members of the community select a student to send gifts to and encouragement for their accomplishments. 

“It’s been really rough lately being locked in your house for such a long time with everything that’s going on, but to see the amount of support that we have in the community really keeps me going every day,” said Yoingco. 

The 17-year-old also received a special gift from the school librarian he worked with on campus: the librarian’s 1971 “Madman Across the Water” record by Elton John. 

Though he appreciated the gifts, Yoingco said he valued the community’s efforts more. 

“This really taught me that it’s really not about what gifts they’re giving, it’s really the thought that counts,” he said. 

“A family who doesn’t know him and to do something like this, that’s the beauty of the whole thing,” said Mia, Ricardo’s mom. “My son worked really hard and I’m very proud and very thankful for the support.” 

Blowing the candles

Celebrating another year around the sun might feel a little lonely amid physical distancing directives, but Painted Monkeys & Company, a local party entertainment service, has kept busy connecting children on their birthday with their friends for virtual parties. 

“It’s been a little bit different but somehow we’re managing and it’s so worth it. The best thing to see is they’re all giggling and smiling so it’s so rewarding,” said owner Nancy Schier. 

Last weekend, the company hosted its largest virtual party with about 35 toddlers tuning in via Zoom to join their friend celebrating her birthday by singing along and participating in at-home games with an actress that dressed up as a princess. 

With services now online due to quarantining orders brought forth by the pandemic, the local company has now helped in children’s birthdays across the nation, including for a child in Virginia.

“We’re averaging about three a weekend, it’s starting to take off. We’re mostly doing birthdays and, especially with the pandemic, it’s important to cheer kids up,” said Schier. 

Tying the knot 

Much like birthdays and graduations, couples celebrating their marriage have also looked a little bit different amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

On April 4, two SCV couples considered canceling their wedding but decided that the date was far more important to them than their planned ceremonies. Instead of canceling their entire weddings, they opted to get married in their homes and to celebrate the special day with family and friends via live broadcasts.  

For Lyle and Heather Michaud, their backyard served as the perfect, last-minute venue, where the only other people present were Heather’s sister, their pastor as the officiant and their photographer Desiree Keoshian, who also served as their witness. 

Heather and Lyle Michaud wave to their Facebook live viewers after their wedding ceremony in their backyard amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Desiree Keoshian

Via a Facebook live broadcast, about 100 of their guests, including their families, tuned in to celebrate them tying the knot. After the short ceremony, they were surprised by some of their friends who drove by their home with “congrats to the newlyweds” signs.  

“All this work, all this time, all this money, all this effort (in planning the original wedding), it doesn’t matter as much as being together and the marriage itself happening and we just felt that that was what God had for us. Just when everything seemed to fall apart we knew we had each other,” said Lyle. 

The same was for Becca and Stephen White, who had their entire wedding set until safety guidelines made them question whether to postpone a ceremony as mandates limited social gatherings. 

With the help of Stephen’s family, the couple managed to hold a ceremony on April 4, with Becca’s family and the couple’s friends cheering via Zoom. 

After seeing photos of the at-home wedding, Gina Boersma, of local planning services Gina Bee Events who had helped plan their original ceremony, said in a statement, “Nothing was going to stop these two from marrying their best friend. Whether you postpone your wedding, or get married at home with Zoom guests, nothing can take away your love and commitment to each other.” 

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