Awana’s ingenious socially-distanced graduation ceremony
Is San Diego opening up? Last week, it sure looked like it. The scene: 10th and Orange in Coronado, 7 am. Clayton’s has just reopened its coffee window with the $1 coffees. “I ran when I saw it,” says this lady in line ahead. “I wanted to cry.”
Two blocks west and 8 hours later, a teaching nurse named Mary Beth puts on her best hat. She decided it was time for neighbors to reacquaint themselves with each other. “Join your Neighbor 2 Neighbors for socially distant Happy Hour from 5-6pm,” says the flier she’s been handing out. “Bring your mask, chair, beverage for yourself, and the best alternatives to handshakes, hugs, high fives, hongi, and the east coast wave.”
D Avenue neighborhood gathering. Just to get out...
“East coast wave?” It turns out to be a no-touch greeting craze started by the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. It involves a meeting of the eyes, a raising of the eyebrows, and a subtle upward movement of the head. It’s a common way of saying “g’day” on the east coast of the North Island where Ardern grew up. Since the popular prime minister demo’d it, it’s gone national. Now, after this block party, it may have crossed the Pacific.
And the “hongi?” It is the also-much-loved nose-to-nose greeting from the Maori tradition. But that very tactile, hugely intimate greeting might have to wait.
And the Kiwi invitation? “I found it online,” says Mary Beth.
Mary Beth’s Greetingly Correct invitation
Two streets away, another strange phenomenon bursts out around five o’clock Thursday. Cheers, and whoops echo down the street. It’s kids and grown-ups lining C Avenue near the Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church. They wave signs and flags and yellevery time a car comes past. After these weeks of social isolation and silent streets, it sounds almost shocking. You think: homecoming? A wedding, a commencement, an anti-lockdown demo, maybe? Except the signs all say things like “Yay! Wow! Woohoo! You did it!” and “Congratulations!” and “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” and “Approved Workers Are Not Ashamed.”
Rebecca searches out a graduate’s awards
“This is our ceremony for the children graduating our 14th AWANA class,” says Rebecca Smith. She’s standing at an awards table beside the road, wearing mask and gloves and a smart black outfit. Every now and then, when a car pulls up with parents in front and kids in back, she leads cheers and pretend high fives and takes a package out to the car.
“We had a problem,” she says. “We couldn’t have a ceremony for the young people graduating from their virtual classes. That’s when I decided we could do a drive-by awards ceremony. We’re all physically distanced, and the families can come and pick up their awards by car. It feels like a celebration. And look! they’re all coming. Thirty-five families, 65 awards.”
They tense a little when a cop car cruises slowly by. But then he waves, smiles, and heads on down C.
She says it’s an organization to “teach children Christian values.... We have been going 70 years, are in 124 countries, and have ministered to 5 million children from 2 to 18 years old,” she says.
And what does AWANA stand for? “It’s [a paraphrase of] a quotation from 2 Timothy 2:15. ‘Approved Workers Are Not Ashamed.’”
That meaning’s a mystery for another day. Meantime, you can’t help feeling that life is bursting to get back in the saddle.