Graduations haven’t been typical in SC and DP, but at least the surf’s been pumping

By Jake Howard

The school year is officially wrapped, and summer vacation is here. Thankfully, for the past couple of weeks, the waves have been pumping, enabling everyone to catch some waves.

No doubt, the last few months have been weird, especially if you’re a senior graduating into the great wide world. But as San Clemente High School surf coach John Dowell is quick to point out, “Class of 2020, you are always going to remember your senior year!”

Around the country, graduating seniors are caught between celebrating this huge milestone and wondering what comes next. And while things continue to morph and develop seemingly every day, their accomplishments and dedication to their education, athletic pursuits and future should inspire us all to push ahead with energy and a positive outlook.

“It isn’t traditional or familiar to what you thought graduation would look like, but you will always remember it,” Dowell says. “Thank you! Thank you for your time, commitment and dedication to the surf team these past four years.”

Sean Doherty, pictured here, was one of two surfers awarded a scholarship by the Dana Point Surf Club. Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lyons

One of Dowell’s big objectives as a coach is to produce great surfers—which he most certainly does—as well as great people. Academic-minded, his seniors will now be heading off to colleges such as Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, San Diego State, Brigham Young University and a host of other great schools around the nation.

“I love how close our team is in and out of the water, and going through all four years with them has made lifelong friends,” says senior Matt Economos, who’s bound for Utah State.

Senior Dana Shany, who’s headed to Cal State Monterey Bay, adds: “This senior year, I got to bond and get closer with my teammates. Today, they are my best friends. It was a crazy year, but overall full of memories.”

Farther up Pacific Coast Highway in Dana Point, the story is much the same, as graduating seniors are stepping into a future that is far from certain.

“We have an amazing group of seniors here in Dana Point. Their graduation plans may have had to change with all that’s going on, but we can still honor them, celebrate their accomplishments and recognize that this is a unique group of students who have overcome a unique challenge,” says Eric Diamond, the president of the Dana Point Surf Club.

The Dana Point Surf Club just awarded Dana Hills graduates Nate Caplinger and Sean Dougherty with scholarships to help them boldly chase their dreams.

“We couldn’t pick just one student this year, because it’s been a tough one for these guys, as well as the entire 2020 class,” Diamond explains. “So, the club picked two totally different surfers. Nick is very laidback and has a cool, casual style, while Sean’s surfing is aggressive and spontaneous.”

According to Diamond, the Dana Point Surf Club’s scholarships are based on ambassadorship, GPA, community service and competition results—in that order.

So, what’s next for this group of intrepid students? Unfortunately, it’s unclear what happens to all those typical summer jobs and plans for college in the fall. With local businesses finally starting to reopen, hopefully, some of those jobs still exist. At the very least, based on beach crowds the past few weekends, there’s going to be a need for lifeguards.

Meanwhile, universities are already planning and adjusting for what classes may look like in a few months. College definitely won’t be the same as it ever was. Everything from large lecture classes to the living situation in the dorms will be different. But these are smart, resilient, talented students who are sure to adapt and succeed.

“Your hard work has not gone unnoticed,” Dowell says. “I’m in awe of how you have all grown and matured into the people you are today, and I know you all have bright futures ahead in anything you choose to do. Good luck on your new life adventures, and don’t forget, when the going gets tough, the tough go surfing!”

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including the San Clemente Times, Dana Point Times, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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