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New Mexico School for the Arts graduates toss their caps during the school's commencement ceremony May 28 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. 

Graduation is the crowning achievement for high school seniors. It is when the fruits of their labor are recognized and they are awarded with their diploma.

Graduation, however, is a social and heavily populated event, not easily done during the coronavirus pandemic, where it is paramount that people stay away from one another.

Last year's seniors encountered the hurdle of having a graduation during the early months of the pandemic. The one opportunity for celebration was to have the ceremony virtually. The difficulty and disappointment was recounted by Luca Contanario, now a student at Wheaton College.

“I was a little bummed out because graduation was a bit overhyped, but I understand that was the only version I could get,” Contanario said.

Contanario feels like graduation was a bit weird, having much of the ceremony removed from the event. “I had to hand myself a diploma online,” Contanario said.

Because of the situation over the past year, this year's seniors had been considering the possibility of having a limited graduation similar to that of last year’s graduates.

Zeke Stein, who graduated from Santa Fe Prep this year, said he had no doubts the ceremony was going to happen in person this year.

“I had a feeling we were going to be given a graduation since our school was opened to full capacity beforehand,” he said.

Stein believes it was important to have a graduation to give closure to students and teachers after a chaotic year of virtual learning and social distancing.

“It was a pretty good way to finish it out, and it felt completely safe. The format was like most other graduations,” said Stein, who was happy his entire family could be there.

This sentiment was shared by Madison Zehnder, a graduate from Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, who believes given the current circumstances, the decision to have a graduation ceremony was generous.

“I was expecting to have heavily limited guests or just have it at school in the parking lot,” Zehnder said.

It was difficult for many students to know whether they would be able to have graduation in a traditional sense, as schools were entertaining ideas such as having a drive-in graduation.

Zehnder is optimistic about the progress made during the pandemic through vaccinations, and that the lower number of COVID-19 cases signals things are slowly opening up and milestone celebrations soon can resume for high school students.

“It was nice to have it like normal,” said Zehnder, who feels hopeful rising seniors can have a more normal high school experience — with events and activities such as dances — this coming year.

Ben Timm is a recent graduate of Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School. Contact him at bentigertimm@gmail.com.

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