High School Graduates in Yuma County Reflect on Year of Change
For the past two months, classrooms, hallways, auditoriums and athletic fields for high schools in Yuma County have sat empty.
On March 15, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced that Arizona schools, including private schools, would be shutting down, due to increased Centers for Disease Control guidelines to limit public gatherings. On March 30, Ducey and Hoffman announced schools would stay closed for the remainder of the school year.
Rituals of the spring semester including school assemblies, dances, theater performances and sports were all canceled.
For high school seniors, it meant graduating without their classmates or teachers by their side.
Galileah Sanchez is graduating from Kofa High School.
“With teachers, it wasn’t hard because you can contact them but it tends to get a lot harder when you’re not learning in person, asking questions in person," Sanchez said. "It was stressful and just really sad to not be able to see your friends for the last time or say goodbye to your teachers, especially if you’re a senior, so it was pretty difficult.”
Sanchez, who lives in Somerton, said being motivated to complete school work at home was also a challenge. She will attend Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in the fall and will major in English.
Briana Gomez is a graduate at Gila Ridge High School. She was on the dance team at school and had to film videos of herself dancing at home and sent them in to her coaches for feedback.
“I’m going to remember my senior year being cut short and everything drastically changing in the blink of an eye," Gomez said. "I feel like I’ve been so distracted by everything going on that the last two months have just flown by.”
Next for Gomez is attending Arizona State University in Tempe.
Some students say the coronavirus won’t be the only memory from their last year of high school. John Wessley Young is the valedictorian at Yuma Catholic High School.
“I played football all four years and I wasn't very good," Young said. "I was probably the smallest guy out there. It was my Senior Night that I got a time to shine. It was my last game I ever played in, the last quarter of my last season. That's my favorite memory from this whole senior year because it is more positive than having to think about the coronavirus.”
Young will attend the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Melissa Moreno will graduate from San Luis High School this week. She held a leadership role in the Skills USA student group but lost the opportunity to attend a training session in North Carolina and the organization’s national conference because of the coronavirus pandemic. But she says she’s learned the lesson that you have to take life as it comes and is grateful for the time she had with her family.
“I'm definitely going to take away and remember this year where I really had the opportunity to bond with my family members," Moreno said. "We now have this time to slow down and really appreciate what we have. I've been able to improve those bonds with my family and become even closer with them so I definitely appreciate that."
Moreno will also be attending ASU in the fall and will study business law with plans to attend law school.
The public school graduations will be held each evening through Friday, which is also graduation day for Yuma Catholic.
Public school district officials declined to release the names of the valedictorians for the schools.