By Leslie Nicholson | Sonoma Sun —
During a school year where students are not expected to set foot on campus until sometime in April and traditions have been put on hold, the students of Sonoma Valley experienced a very different kind of Homecoming Week.
This year’s events were virtual and lacked the usual flurry of activity when 1,200 students spend a whole week leading up to a Homecoming Game and Dance.
For two students, this year’s Homecoming was something they never anticipated. When Toni Arzaga and Hector Vargas were announced as 2021 Homecoming Queen and King, it was much more than the recognition of winning. A few weeks after the event, both reflected about what this means to them and to other students at the high school.
“Our winning was not about a popularity contest,” explains Vargas. “This hit me at a much deeper level. As a Latino student, I feel I represent a whole group of students who do not often get recognized. I think that the “norm” is changing and kids are realizing that when you participate you can make a change. Despite any racial and social divide someone may feel, it is best to ignore it and just ‘do yourself.’”
Vargas attended Sassarini Elementary School and Altimira Middle School. He has been involved with the Keystone Club, played basketball, and tutored on the weekends at the Boys and Girls Club. He plans on attending Santa Rosa Junior College to study Viticulture and Enology.
Arzaga moved to Sonoma in fourth grade and attended Flowery Elementary and Adele Harrison Middle School. She was a member of the Water Polo Team, and has been on the high school swim team since her Freshman Year. She has participated in the Sonoma International Film Fest, the Podcast Club, was a Co-Anchor of the SVHS Video Arts broadcast, and participated in FFA (Future Farmers of America). She will receive her Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish upon graduation. Her plan is to attend the University of Hawaii to pursue a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies that includes Film and Business, or Sociology.
Both shared their experience as Seniors in Distance Learning.
“I have actually found more happiness by being at home, while still staying connected with my friends,” says Arzaga. She feels badly for the younger high school students who haven’t had the chance to establish their friend groups.
“I think that this has made me realize when I look back at my earlier high school years that it is important to go to everything like dances, sporting events, and join a club. We all know now that we can’t take these things for granted,” she adds. “People often ask me about how I feel about not being on campus for my senior year. We have learned that the circumstances of living through a pandemic change life for everyone. People are dying from the virus and there are just times in life when things are more important than what we plan on.”
Vargas said that the adjustment to Distance Learning has been a growing experience. “I was really overwhelmed at first, which was completely expected. I then took advantage of the time at home to become more connected to my family. Once I was accustomed to the new way of learning, I made it work to my advantage. Being in class virtually and staying on track with my homework is much easier now.”
As for what they will miss most after high school, Vargas will be sad to say farewell to butter bagels and square pizzas in the cafeteria. One of his best memories is being able to play basketball during lunches in the K Building with other students and some of the teachers.
Arzaga will miss eating lunch and hanging out in the Video Arts Room with a group of girls. “Making life-long friends has been such a great part of my experience in high school,” she says.