More than 500 high school seniors in the Roaring Fork Valley graduated Saturday from parked cars and outdoor celebrations rather than traditional gymnasium and football field ceremonies because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Car horns replaced rounds of applause, and graduates wore face coverings. Now that these graduates have their diplomas, some worry their college plans may not go according to plan.
Estefany Revilla is among them. She’s a first-generation high school graduate from Roaring Fork High School. Despite the coronavirus not allowing her to walk across the stage, Revilla said she was thrilled to still have a ceremony.
“I feel like our class throughout the (Roaring Fork Valley) and throughout the nation will all be remembered for either having a virtual or drive-through graduation. It’s very meaningful,” Revilla said.
Revilla’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. She said her parents were just as proud as they heard her name called out from their car as if they were at a traditional graduation ceremony.
“I did not take anything for granted that my parents did for me because they’ve sacrificed so much,” Revilla said. “This is a way of me giving back to them.”
Now that graduates from Roaring Fork School District and the Aspen School District have turned their tassels, it is time for them to enter the next chapter of their lives, and for many that means going off to college having never seen their future university.
Morgan Witt, a graduate of Aspen High School, said her family planned to go to three different universities over spring break in March. But those plans were canceled as the coronavirus spread through Colorado and the rest of the country.
“It was really hard because I had to go through a decision process without ever even seeing any of the schools,” Witt said.
She ultimately decided to attend DePauw University in Indiana to study theater. The choice did not come easily. Witt said she is worried she will pack up her life, move into the dorms at DePauw and find out the college isn’t the right fit.
“I’ve never seen DePauw. I didn’t really get that traditional kind of college tour experience, which was kind of a really low point,” Witt said.
James Blazier, a graduate from Basalt High School, has similar concerns. He was deciding between moving to New York for college or going to the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a full scholarship, or University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“I was thinking should I be choosing my college based on how I think that the world is going to be after COVID?” Blazier said.
With a full-ride to UC Berkeley, he said he wouldn’t have to worry about how the coronavirus would impact the economy since tuition and all other costs would be covered by the university.
But deep-down, Blazier, who wants to study urban planning, said he knew that UC Berkeley wasn’t for him.
“I wanted to go to the University of Southern California, but I was thinking would it be selfish if I went there?” Blazier questioned.
After much consideration, Blazier chose to attend the University of Southern California. Now he, and many others who plan to attend a university in the fall, face the uncertainty of the coronavirus preventing them from moving into the dorms at the start of the semester.
“Even if we all have to wear masks while going to classes or sit six feet apart in classes, I really want to be over there,” Blazier said. “I don’t want to spend another semester in the Valley.”
But the idea of leaving the Roaring Fork Valley weighed heavy for Estefany Revilla. She considered moving to Seattle for college, but will instead attend Colorado State University to be closer to her family.
“You never know what can happen during this pandemic, and if anything happened, I just don’t know how I would be able to cope without my family,” Revilla said. “They’ve been my rock for my whole life.”
Witt, Blazier and Revilla said they rolled with the punches as they ended their high school career during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they say they will do the same as they start their freshman year of college.