High school graduation has special meaning for South Bay teen who lost her father

High school graduation for one San Jose senior and her mother will be a time of great joy, laced with sadness and an aching sense of what might have been.

Arianna Ibarra's dad, James Ibarra, died from a rare type of colon cancer last month.

"I think it was important for him to see me graduate,"Arianna says.

And he almost did, in a way.

Ibarra knew he might not live to see his daughter get her diploma from Pioneer High School in San Jose.

"As positive as he was he knew there was that chance. So it was important for him to watch his daughter cross the stage. He was very proud of her," said Arianna's mother Cristal.

A few months ago, she began arranging with the high school to fulfill that wish.

They planned a special graduation ceremony, where Arianna dressed in cap and gown, and with full pomp and circumstance, would receive her diploma on stage with her father there to see.

"You always want your parents with you. For him to be there would be big especially with the situation we were dealing with," says Arianna.

The date was set for March 12th. But by then the coronavirus began gaining a foothold. That morning the school called saying it wasn't safe to have visitors inside. Arianna's special graduation was canceled.

"He was disappointed," Cristal said.

"He was sad we weren't able to do it that day. Everyone was sad because everyone was excited for that," said Arianna.

The next day all San Jose schools closed for the year.

Three weeks later Ibarra died. He was just 48 years old.

"I know what he would want to see is for her to push forward, finish school, travel. Follow her passion," says Cristal.

Pioneer High is polling the seniors whether they want a virtual graduation or perhaps a real one in later summer, if possible. Either way, Arianna says she will be thinking of her father.

"I think he is always going to be here with me," she said.