Photo Essay: Honoring their wishes, with a promised kept
More than 4 months after the last day of in-person classes, Rifle High School seniors make their final walk as Bears
For Rifle High School Principal John Arledge, Saturday was a moment he and his staff had hoped for, but they just weren’t sure if it was ever going to happen as the coronavirus pandemic continues around the world.
“When COVID first hit there was a lot of talk about not having graduation at all across not just our state but the nation. I think a lot of schools elected at the very beginning to either do a virtual one or none at all,” Arledge said. “I met with a group of our seniors, and I asked them, ‘Do you want to do a virtual one or do you want to hold out for the longest date possible to have a graduation.’ They unanimously said, ‘Let’s hold out,’ so we picked today, July 25, because I go back to work on Monday for the start of the new school year.”
The overcast and cool conditions of late July didn’t dampen the spirits of approximately 150 of the 171 members of Rifle High Schools Class of 2020. After months of waiting and anticipation of an in-person graduation, seniors made the long-awaited walk across the stage to receive their diploma Saturday at Bear Stadium.
“It feels good. It is a little anticlimactic, but I mean we welcome it with open arms. It’s nice we finally get the opportunity,” Andres Guerrero-Paredes said. “It was nice especially since we didn’t have that final goodbye our last day.”
As one of four valedictorians, Guerrero-Paredes will be attending University of Colorado Boulder, but is still undecided on his major but plans to go into medicine.
Abiding by county guidelines of physical distancing, limiting the numbers of people in attendance, and disinfecting the seating in between events, Rifle High School held three consecutive ceremonies Saturday to honor the Class of 2020.
Kyle Mickelson, assistant principal, said it was an honor to be voted the commencement speaker by the Class of 2020. Mickelson shared a tight bond with the class, as he had been with them since middle school.
Mickelson’s high school experience was forever changed his freshman year, April 20, 1999, when two fellow students killed 13 people, including 12 students and one teacher, at Columbine High School in Littleton.
Mickelson passed along the message that anytime you go through something negative, you can always find the positive in it.
“It’s hard as you’re going through it, but later in life it changes your perspective on other things. The other problems down the road are going to seem so small, because they are going to be like, I graduated through a pandemic,” Mickelson said.
For Mickelson and the rest of the staff, many who couldn’t be present due to the restrictions, there was a lot of work over the summer to get to Saturday.
“It’s been a lot of work and worry over the summer, just the unknown. The kids indicated in a survey way back in April that they would rather hold out hope until the end of the summer to do an in-person ceremony than do a virtual one,” Mickelson said. “To honor their wishes, we held out hope for that.”
For Delaney Phillips it was the end of a near perfect scholastic career — the valedictorian never missed a day of school from kindergarten to the COVID-19 closure.
Phillips said it wasn’t the perfect ending many seniors had hoped for, but it still helped with closure in an imperfect way.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out really nice,” Phillips said. “It was good to see at least some of the people I went to high school with, wish I could’ve seen everybody, but at least a third is better than nobody.”
Phillips is off to Provo Utah next where she will attend BYU and major in elementary education.
Saturday was an extra special day for Lyliah Powers as she celebrated her birthday with her classmates and family. Powers, who will be studying pre-veterinary medicine at Colorado Mesa University this fall, said it was a day worth the wait after going through a stressful spring missing out on her last choir concert, the senior walk and so many other memorable moments of her senior year.
“It’s really cool. It’s definitely an experience I wouldn’t have gotten if we hadn’t waited. I just thought it was really neat to turn 18 on graduation day,” Powers said.
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