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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

Members of the Rifle High School Class of 2020 walk into Bear Stadium for the moment they have been waiting for the last three months Saturday during one of the three gradation ceremonies.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

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.

Briana Rodriguez Cruz receives a helping hand from Garrett Robinson as they line up for the procession into Bear Stadium Saturday during Rifle High School’s in-person graduation ceremonies.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

“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.”

Soon-to-be Rifle High School graduates make their way to the football field from graduation two of three Saturday at Bear Stadium in Rifle.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

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.

Parents and family members file into the grandstand for graduation festivities Saturday in Rifle. Each graduate received two tickets to stay within the county and state guidelines for large gatherings.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

“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.

Rifle High School seniors Levi Warfel, Ethan Mackley and Holden Stutsman enjoy one last moment together during commencement ceremonies at Bear Stadium Saturday.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Rifle High School staff, Garfield School District Re-2 officials, parents, and family members file into the grandstand for graduation festivities Saturday in Rifle. Each graduate received two tickets to stay within the county and state guidelines for large gatherings.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

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.

Assistant Principal Kyle Mickelson passes on words of encouragement during one of the three ceremonies Saturday in Rifle.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

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.

With decorated cap soon-to-be graduate Aline Trevizo watches as names of senior are annouced to walk across the stage to recieve diplomas Saturday.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Yoselin Venzor Marquez blows a kiss to her family in the grandstand after recieveing her diploma Saturday at Bear Stadium in Rifle.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

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.”

Ryan McCumbee reacts after recieving her diploma Saturday at Bear Stadium.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

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.

Garfield Re-2 School Dstrict Superintendent Heather Grumley, and Assistant Superintndent Lisa Pierce stay dry during a brief rain shower Saturday with the help of umbrellas.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
A staff member with Garfield Re-2 School District disinfects the chairs inbetween ceremonies Saturday at Bear Stadium.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

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.

kmills@postindependent.com

A soon-to-be graduate wears her varsity etter on her cap during Saturday’s commenecnemtn ceremonies in Rifle.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Parents and family members file into the grandstand for graduation festivities Saturday in Rifle. Each graduate recieved 2 tickets to stay within the county and state guidelines for large gatherings.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Principal John Arledge shares an embrace with Hannah Bodrogi as she recieves her diploma Saturday during Rifle’s triple-header of commencment ceremonies at Bear Stadium.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
With their parents and family members watching the Rifle High School Class of 2020 participates in in graduation two of three Saturday at Bear Stadium.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Valadictorian Andres Guerro-Paredes leds the first of three graduating ceremoines into Bear Stadium Saturday at Bear Stadium in Rifle.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Dalton Stutsman and Holden Stutsman are all smiles as they receive their diplomas Saturday in Rifle.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Rifle High School Class of 2020 participates in one of three in-person graduations last Saturday at Bear Stadium.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Rifle High School Class of 2020 throws their caps in celebration as the last of three ceremonies held Saturday at Bear Stadium in Rifle.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Classmates share an embrace after receiving their diplomas last Saturday at Bear Stadium.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
School and district staff congratulates members of the Rifle High School Class of 2020 after commencement ceremonies last Saturday at Bear Stadium.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Noah Cartmell is all smiles as he celebrates with member of the Class of 2020 after graduating Saturday at Bear Stadium in Rifle.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Members of the Class of 2020 share embrace after recieving their diplomas during triple-header of graduation ceremonies Saturday at Rifle High School.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram
Lyliah Powers recieves a big hug from her dad DJ Ridgeway after she walked during the final of three graduation ceremonies Saturday in Rifle. After months of waiting Rifle High School held their in-person graduation ceremony using guidelines set by the county and the state.
Kyle Mills / Citizen Telegram

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