The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the traditional school schedule and traditions, with students ready to transition to the next stage of their education hit especially hard.
Social distancing not only has blown up the classroom schedule most are used to, but it has destroyed their chance to have a graduation ceremony, prom, senior trips or the other traditions they may have been primed to experience.
So Andy and Jessica Salazar of Casa Grande, owners of Big Tyme Entertainment, stepped up April 25 and produced a three-hour Facebook party, something they do every Saturday, but this time showing photos sent in by parents of their graduating high school seniors, eighth graders, and a few kindergarteners and college grads.
“I think we had a total of 190 students,” said Andy Salazar. The vast majority were from Pinal County, with a few from Hamilton High School in Chandler and Phoenix and Tucson schools.
More than 50 gift cards with a total value of about $500 were raffled off to the graduates from local eateries ranging from McDonald’s to Ochoa’s, as well as Amazon and other vendors.
The evening’s sponsors were Mike Valdez of Valdez Landscaping in Casa Grande, Heritage Motors on Pinal Avenue in Casa Grande and Ruben Duarte, finance and sales manager for Heritage Motors.
Salazar said the party garnered 1,300 views and some 600 comments on Facebook: “They were family members, friends, parents, the kids. … It was real emotional, just seeing all the parents’ comments and just knowing we did something good for them.”
Putting on the show was a family affair, like so many other things these days, as the Salazars worked the night with two of their daughters and other relatives. But their connection to the surrounding community was strong.
Andy Salazar’s Facebook page, which hosted the livestream, is flooded with comments and posts by people congratulating their favorite grad while thanking the Salazars for giving them their deserved moment in the spotlight.
“You guys put on an amazing (Facebook) live show last night for our graduates. Us parents and even our kiddos appreciated it. Seeing all the pics and familiar faces was awesome,” Shanna Gastelum wrote.
Anjelica Rodriguez posted: “This made it that much more real. My baby is graduating this year. W/all the hoopla & drama going on during these crazy times, it’s felt unreal. Especially w/them not having a graduation ceremony it’s made it so hard to get really into the moment.”
Andrea Costales-Ortega told Golden Corridor LIVING she sent her daughter Elizabeth’s photo to the Salazars as soon as she heard about their grad party plans. Elizabeth will be the first in their family to graduate from college, earning a degree from Arizona State University in interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in construction management and design.
“As I was watching, me and my oldest daughter decided to donate two gift cards for all these wonderful kids who won’t get the chance to walk. It felt so good to see so many kids smiling faces,” she said. “I am so grateful to Andy for this.”
Salazar said, “We just wanted to make sure they had a good night, that was all.”