Years from now, well after 2020 is a blurry memory, one thing this year’s graduates will share with their children and grandchildren will be the story of the commencement that never was. Or, if there was one, it will be a story of a graduation unlike any other.
For the Class of 2020, the coronavirus has turned their world upside down. Early into their final semester, the virus forced administrators to cancel school, put classes on-line and wipe off the docket any activities that may have been scheduled. No proms, no spring sports, no parties, no caps and gowns.
In Pueblo, a group calling itself ‘We Stand Together for Graduation,’ is proposing a late July gathering for Pueblo’s District 60 high school seniors to be held at the Thunderdome, Colorado State University-Pueblo’s football stadium. In order to pull together the on-the-fly commencement it needs to raise $20,000 by month’s end to pay the costs, including rental of the facility.
Pueblo high school seniors from Centennial, Central, East, South and Paragon/Dutch Clark On-line schools are invited to participate. Organizers are limiting family and friends to groups of no more than four. Each school will have its own commemoration. For updated information, the group suggests checking its Facebook page regularly.
Except for, perhaps, the war years, this will be the first unique disruption of this late spring tradition. For Central’s Wildcats, Centennial’s Bulldogs---the city’s oldest and historic high schools---East’s Eagles and South’s Colts, senior year and all that goes with it, ended when classes were canceled, and the coronavirus began calling the shots.
For one family, the year could not have ended more ignominiously. It lost a son and brother earlier this year and graduation may have symbolized both his passing and his sister, Victoria Vasquez, move on to the next chapter of her life.
“He told me, ‘I’ll be there for your graduation,’” said Vasquez of her late brother, Justin’s promise. Her big brother was a popular and outgoing Central graduate. “He was everything at Central,” said family matriarch, Pearl Dominguez. He was a class Vice President and member of the school prom court his senior year. Another brother, Vincent, was also a popular Wildcat, making his mark as a star athlete. But while the Dominguez boys were shining at Central, Victoria, said their mother, made hers in a different way.
The 2020 graduate has been active in the Boys & Girls Club. “She’s been there since she was five,” said her mother. Describing her daughter as “bubbly” and “a people person,” she dotes on the fact that “She knows a lot of people and a lot of people know her.” Once a kid who just played at the club, today she’s a staff member. But, said her mother, she is “also a good student.”
Not having a graduation ceremony is not the only thing missing from Vasquez’ senior year. “It’s the whole thing,” she said. “Walking in the line in front of your family, getting the applause, knowing you made people proud and knowing that there’s people to cheer you on for what you did.”
After the long break from school, Vasquez is setting her sights on the fall and the next chapter of her life. “I want to get myself ready for college classes,” she said. She plans to enroll at Pueblo Community College and after that, “I want to take that leap to a university.” She plans to attend CSU-Pueblo to complete her undergraduate degree.
COVID-19 has changed life for everyone in America. But for the ‘Class of 2020,’ it has stolen a milestone event, the chance to say goodbye to a foundational part of young life along with a ceremony that until now has served generations as that unique launching pad into a world where they will be its architects.