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RISD seniors reflect on loss of traditions

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Submitted Photo Socorro Rascon

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The senior year of high school is full of its highs and lows, but the class of 2020 never expected to have this milestone year in their lives end so differently than they imagined.

With the coronavirus pandemic spreading across the United States, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered on March 13 a three-week shutdown of pubic schools just as Roswell Independent School District prepared for spring break.

On March 27, that closure was extended through the end of the year and schools moved to at-home learning. All sports and activities were canceled. Plans for graduation are still unknown.

RISD has created a plan for graduation ceremonies, Superintendent Mike Gottlieb said last week. He did not give details, however, as the plans are awaiting approval from the Public Education Department to ensure they do not violate the state’s health orders.

Three Roswell seniors — one from each high school — talked with the Roswell Daily Record about their feelings at finishing the school year at home, isolated from friends and teachers, missing out on traditional activities and the effects the COVID-19 pandemic might have on their futures.

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All three were contacted through the “The Original Adopt a High School Senior” Facebook group, where thousands of seniors connected with people who sent gifts and cards to help cheer them up.

For these three seniors, missing out on the chance to walk across the stage in cap and gown to receive their diplomas after years of hard work was most upsetting.

That’s especially true for Socorro Gascon, a second-year senior at University High School. Gascon made up for a bad start to high school by taking summer classes and applying to UHS to graduate this year.

“Your freshman year is hard, but my sophomore year, I just got with the wrong crew and my grades started dropping,” she said.

“My junior year, I decided I needed to do my work because it’s really important I get a diploma,” she said.

She’ll be the first in her family to graduate, as her older brother and sister both dropped out of high school. Gascon said she wanted to be a good role model for her 12-year-old sister.

She did well at first, but after a relationship breakup, her attendance dropped and so did her grades. She decided to apply to UHS, and after being accepted, pulled her grades back up.

“I’m really upset because I’ve worked so hard,” she said of not being able to walk across the stage.

“Even though I’ve made my mom and my family proud, and I’m still going to get a diploma, I just won’t walk, which is pretty sad,” Gascon said.

Alyssa Gray, a senior at Goddard High School, also feels let down about not getting a traditional graduation ceremony. She had earned a white graduation gown worn by honor students.

“I feel like I was looking forward to graduation. A big part of me keeping my grades so high was because of college but also, I’m going to walk down in white,” she said.

She’s the first in her family to earn the white gown, her mother, Teresa Gray, said.

Alyssa plays the violin and was concertmaster of the school orchestra. She’s also a member of the National Honor Society.

While it’s possible RISD graduates might get to take part in some kind of ceremony, Roswell High School senior Keegan Sutton isn’t sure if he’ll get to take part. On June 1, he leaves for basic training in the U.S. Army at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Even if Roswell High can conduct a ceremony this month, the celebration won’t be as big. His family had planned a big barbecue, but that was canceled due to the health order limiting the size of gatherings.

“It’s honestly pretty shocking,” he said of the realization it might not happen. “I didn’t expect for this to happen and it makes me honestly pretty sad I might not have a graduation,” he said.

The thought a ceremony might take place later in the summer is especially hard, Sutton said.

“Realizing it might be when I’m gone, all my friends get to walk, all the families get to see their kid, and my family and myself won’t be able to be there because I’ll be gone, it just baffles me,” he said.

He worries that his family also won’t be able to attend his graduation from basic training in August if health orders restricting gatherings continue. He will have two weeks to return home before he reports to Virginia for career training with the Army.

The lack of socialization also has been difficult for the students.

“Being a teenager, I would like to hang out with friends, too, and I can’t do that,” Sutton said, also saying he misses seeing his teachers every day.

He’s kept busy with his senior project to be able to get his diploma as well as working at Papa John’s. He uses the money for his car payment and phone bill and also helps with the family grocery bill.

Gray said when she first realized she wouldn’t be going back to Goddard, she was excited about an extended summer break.

“Then I was like, all those people who I’m acquaintances with, I’m probably never going to see them again. So that was a little sad,” she said.

It’s the day-to-day interactions she said she misses.

“Now if I see my friends, it’s very short or phone calls. I saw them every day for hours, or it would just be easy to bring them over and we could hang out. But now there’s all these rules and stuff,” Gray said, although she understands the reasons.

“It’s pretty easy to keep in touch with people because of social media, but it’s not the same,” she said.

Gray also felt the loss of the spring music programs that were canceled.

“There was ‘Music in Our Schools,’ which was a big one. We had our senior concert and so all the seniors got to pick the music for that,” she said.

Still, the students are looking to the future with some hope, but they know the experience of the pandemic will have some effect on their lives. They’re just not exactly sure what it will be.

Gascon wants to find a job in a hospital and study to become a certified nursing assistant. The pandemic hasn’t made her rethink her plans, though.

“It’s scary, but I think I can do it,” she said.

Sutton said he believes the world will be able to move on from the pandemic eventually, but it will always be a part of history, especially for those who were to graduate this year. He offered encouragement to his fellow seniors.

“Don’t let it get to you. There’s good benefits. You’re protecting other people by doing this. You’re gonna make it through either way,” he said.

Gray said the experience has made her appreciate life and the world more.

“It’s definitely made me value my day-to-day more because it’s kind of boring. It’s made me more aware of how environmentally unstable we are. The state’s been shut down for a month and everything looks nicer,” she said.

“I might take that with me, just try and be more conscious myself,” Gray said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.