They definitely were not traditional graduation ceremonies, but Saturday morning’s celebratory parades for high school graduates in Roswell were events to remember.
“Now you have a story that separates you from all the other classes before you, and possibly all the classes that come after you,” said part of the scroll that students received from school board members to mark the occasion. “Today you are making history.”
About 550 students have graduated this year, according to Michael Gottlieb, Roswell Independent School District interim superintendent. Because state orders during the coronavirus health concern would not allow for traditional ceremonies, the district arranged to hold three parades in the west parking lot of the Wool Bowl on North Grand Avenue.
Hundreds of graduates participated during the two-and-half-hour fete, with Roswell High starting the morning at 9 a.m., followed by a joint parade for University High and Early College High School, and finishing up with Goddard High School.
Instead of looking out on grandstands full of family and friends, the graduates drove by a platform where school board members were stationed, applauding and waving as each graduate’s name was called.
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Instead of hearing speeches, the hundreds of students who participated heard the whoops of friends and families with them in their cars and the honks from many vehicles, including those belonging to the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, the Roswell Police Department, the Roswell Fire Department and other law agencies who came to assist and show support.
Instead of marching to their chairs as the band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” the graduates came in vehicles of many varieties, including souped-up trucks, sports cars, a boat, a tractor, an off-highway vehicle and a dune buggy.
Instead of being members of quiet crowds, many expressed their style by spraying confetti from their cars and covering their vehicles with balloons and streamers, as well as toilet paper rolls and face masks and other nods to the COVID-19 emergency that changed their senior years.
A few students had a chance to express their appreciation for the event.
“I think a lot of people would be devastated, but I am really happy with everything our school has done for us to compensate for not having a proper graduation,” said Lorena Valencia, the very first person in Saturday’s parade and a Roswell High graduate planning to study music education at Eastern New Mexico University. “I am really happy to see our community come together in these troubling times. It is really comforting.”
Eddie Chacon, an Early College High School graduate planning to study automotive technology at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, said it was an “interesting” experience.
“I am really pretty excited about it,” he said. “My face might not show that, but I am.”
Goddard High School graduate Gabrielle Chester, a prospective nursing student at ENMU-R, spent about six hours decorating her black jeep with balloons, signs and paper flowers.
“It is a little inconvenient,” she said about the parade, “but overall I am happy that they are actually doing something for us.”
Chester added that she plans to be at the June or July traditional graduation ceremonies if public health orders change to allow for that.
Gottlieb said actual diplomas will be handed out at the summer ceremonies if they can be held. Otherwise, the district will find other ways to get them to graduates.
“We are glad to celebrate,” he said. “With all the things they had to go through this year, it has been exciting to end it this way.”
He and school board members said the entire community were involved in the effort to recognize seniors, including many school employees, the first responders on-site and businesses downtown.
“We have made it fun for the kids,” said Alan Gedde. “I like all the cars that are decorated. I think all of us love it. We just love it. This is great. The people are happy.”
Some students who completed the parades then drove along Main Street where family and friends were waiting at the Chaves County Courthouse, Pioneer Plaza or other downtown locations to greet the new high school graduates.
“Your mark is made,” school board members wrote to the Class of 2020. “Now go and continue to make history as the first and last class of its kind. We are proud of you.”