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Rifle High School graduate profile: A dream better late than never

With her mom, Perla Ordonez, by her side Fernanda Cerros is ready to walk across the stage for her high school graduation after the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted her senior year.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

Before she heads off to the Front Range next month where she will attend University of Colorado Boulder to double major in International Affairs and Political Science, Fernanda Cerros has one last duty as student body president.

After two months of delay, Cerros and the Class of 2020 at Rifle High School will finally get their chance to walk the stage at this Saturday’s in-person commencement events, which begin at 8 a.m. Saturday.

“I hope to see everyone there, I have a few words I want to tell my classmates,” Cerros said.

Rifle High School will celebrate the Class of 2020 with three ceremonies to adhere to the county and state guidelines.  

Graduation is a moment that Cerros and her mother, Perla Ordonez, have dreamed of for as long as she can remember. 

“When you grow up in a huge family that doesn’t have very many people graduating or going on to the university at all, it has always been this dream for my mom and me to see me walking across the stage,” Cerros said.

For Cerros it was a dream interrupted, when the pandemic shut down schools in March and abruptly upended her senior year.

“Initially we heard about COVID-19 in December, and everyone thought that it was a distant thing. Realistically it is never going to come here to the United States,” Cerros said. “If it were to, it is like a second strain of the flu, nothing is going to happen, and no one dies. That was our very primitive knowledge of the virus.”

She remembers a talk about the virus during biology class a week before everything began to change, recalling everyone saying they wouldn’t consider shutting everything down for a virus.

That Thursday in March when everything changed is forever imprinted in Cerros’ memory.

“All of the sudden literally from the beginning of the day to the afternoon we found out that everything was getting shut down,” Cerros said. “At the beginning there was a lot of hope, there was a hope of going back to school, this will all be over in a week or two and we are going to be completely fine. Our senior year will continue, all these things we haven’t done yet… We’re going to have our senior trip, we are going to have prom, and graduation.”

As the days, weeks and months went by Cerros began to realize this was the new normal, and her class wouldn’t be getting a chance to pull all those senior pranks they had been planning..

“At that point I had accepted that was going to be a reality. Of course I was upset, but I had a whole month to sit with the idea of ‘This is how it ends,’” Cerros said.

ALWAYS DRIVEN TO LEARN

Born in Mexico, Cerros moved to the United States as an infant before her first birthday. Her family lived in New Mexico first, before moving to Glenwood Springs and later settling in Rifle when she was 2. Her father is a long-haul trucking owner-operator, and her mom works in Aspen and Snowmass as a housekeeper.

Cerros picked up the English language very quickly, and she recalls being in kindergarten with her cousins and helping them communicate with the teacher acting as a translator.

Cerros’s mother remembers that she always enjoyed reading and would share that joy with her classmates every chance she would get.

“I remember I learned how to read at an unusually young age. Going into preschool I was already pretty literate. Four or five kids would gather around and I was sitting on a beanbag on the floor,” Cerros said. “I’d pick up a book and start reading, just doing the whole teacher thing flipping the pages in front of them.”

Through elementary and middle school Cerros continued to push herself and found a love for science and studying the human body. She said her grandmother told her she was going to be the first in the family to go to college and she was going to become a doctor.

“I stuck with that narrative for pretty much eight years of my academic career, from elementary school through freshman year. I didn’t even know being a doctor would entail, but I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Cerros said. “In high school a lot of things changed for me.”

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD

Once in high school Cerros opened her eyes to a whole field of possibilities. She realized new strengths and interests outside of the science and the medical field.

“They were always there, I just had never capitalized on them,” Cerros said.

Cerros joined the Mock Trial Club, and began actively public speaking in front of people. She also started the International Baccalaureate program at Rifle High School, a program that academically challenges students for success in college and beyond.

“These were all things that I didn’t know, but somehow correlated to each other, and fell under the spectrum of international affairs,” Cerros said. “I realized what I wanted to do, advocate for others. Impoverished (regions) like Latin America, who maybe didn’t have the resources that we have.”

Cerros began advocating for her peers in front of the school board and student council. She also wrote a 4,000-word essay on Venezuela’s ability to re-establish a democratic government. 

“Ever since she was little she has always been independent and motivated. I don’t recall a time ever having to help her with homework. She has always been active and intelligent, smarter than me,” her mother said. “She has always had a lot of goals, and set her mind to do things, and she has done it since she was little.”

During her high school career Cerros played basketball and softball before focusing on her academics. A member of the National Honor Society, Spanish club and the student council, Fernanda served as the student body president this year.

The end of her high school career may not be how Cerros envisioned it, but it will be fulfilling a dream that she and her mom have had. She remembers her brother’s graduation four years ago and her mom asking her why a group of kids were in white gowns. She told her they take a really rigorous academic program that distinguishes them from their class.

“Mom was like, ‘I want to see you in white.’ Turns out I got the diploma and I am going to be in white,” Cerros said. “I do it not only for myself, but to fulfill one of my mom’s greatest dreams as well.”

kmills@postindependent.com


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