You wait all year for it. Christmas morning, your birthday, that special day for young people that is one in a million. Or, in this case, one in 2,160 days, normally the number of days from first to twelfth grade. And then, just like that, nothing! No prom. No cap. No gown. No ‘Congratulations to the Class of 2020.’ Pretty anti-climactic.
Thanks to COVID-19, things are different this year. Instead of capping twelve years of school off with tradition, proms, senior ditch day, graduation, the year 2020 will be remembered as the year that no one could have imagined. Sorry.
“I think for a small, rural town like Alamosa,” said Heather Brooks, Alamosa City Manager, “the community, school spirit is significant and not just for the high school.” In places like Alamosa---and small towns across the country---high school graduations are a big deal for a lot of reasons. Each year’s graduates represent the future. They are often the town’s future doctors, lawyers, teachers, city leaders and more. They are foundational.
In this southern Colorado town of 9,000, “that permeates every part of our life…this community supports its students,” said Brooks. Also, in Alamosa, every single kid in town is a ‘Mean Moose,’ the singular mascot for the town’s schools. “Our seniors are very special,” said Brooks.
Towns like Alamosa are like the television show, “Cheers.” ‘Everyone knows your name.’ Everyone. “This is the last time (for them), the last time I’ll be walking down this hall, being in that art class or being in that math class. It’s more than missing a prom or graduation. It’s a memory with your friends.”
At press time, no decision had been made by the Alamosa School Board about how to acknowledge and honor Alamosa High’s ‘Class of 2020.’ Whatever it decides, said Brooks, “We will follow the lead of the school board. We want it to be special.”
But 80 miles south, across the stateline, in Questa, New Mexico, Frank Rael isn’t missing the opportunity to honor this year’s graduates. “We’ll be making each one a personal graduation cake,” said Rael, owner of Frank’s Eats and Treats Restaurant and Bakery. Every graduate will get a cake of their choice, “double-layered, twelve by twelve.”
Rael’s restaurant is the culinary anchor of this interstate border town of 1,700. After years of thinking about it, Rael opened ‘Frank’s,’ a couple of years ago. He plans the menu, cooks the food, and bakes every dessert whose sweet-scented aroma wafts from his kitchen. Desserts include “crème puffs, caramel apples, custom cakes, and pies” that, he adds, come in a variety of fruits and flavors depending on the season.
Baking graduation sweets for Questa’s Class of 2020 is no small task, even in a small town. But, said Rael, “God put it in my heart.” While he waits for the graduates to tell him their choice of cake, everything else is all planned out. “We’re gonna start Wednesday, May 13th and try to have them all out by the fifteenth,” he said. “It will involve a lot of work, a lot of baking, a lot of frosting,” he said. In any normal year, Rael said he might bake about 17 graduation cakes over 17 days. This year is not normal. Twenty-seven cakes for 27 seniors is the goal.
Rael also thinks class sponsors for Questa High School will pitch in to make 2020’s graduation more than it might have been as a result of the virus. In Farmington and Aztec, New Mexico, friends and parents of the neighboring towns have put to rest long standing, but friendly rivalries to create ‘Adopt a Four Corners High School Senior.’ Friends and neighbors are encouraged to buy gift cards for Class of 2020 graduates.
For the Class of 2020, normal has been erased. But affection for the students these towns have watched grow up, remains strong. “Some of them,” said Brooks, “are my (children’s) babysitters. They’re special.”