Amidst the honking cars and celebration, Lovington High School graduate Breena Villalobos shared smiles and tears with her fellow high school graduates.
In the back of her mind were her thoughts of her grandmother, Belinda Clara, who passed away in September of 2018. Even though she couldn’t be at her granddaughter’s graduation, her family created a ceremonial chair just for their matriarch, filled with photos and balloons and a message.
“This one’s for you grandma, with the best seat in the house. I did it!,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos said the idea of having a special place for her grandmother made the celebration of her graduation especially emotional.
“I have been crying all morning,” Villalobos said. “To finally say I did it!”
“Of course, now I am crying because of the heat!” Villalobos added with a laugh. She plans to attend Eastern New Mexico University in the fall to earn a teaching degree.
It was quite warm in downtown Lovington Sunday afternoon as more than 600 vehicles circled the Lea County Courthouse square to participate in the graduation parade for Lovington High School and New Hope High School. The event lasted almost three hours and the total vehicle count does not include some that were able to sneak back into line one or two more times.
The Class of 2020 had 260 total students. There are 198 from Lovington High, 42 from New Hope High and 20 more who are finishing up summer schooling.
“It’s really hot!” said 2020 graduate Caitlin Welch as she and Villalobos sipped on some cool bottled water given to them throughout the event.
Welch, who plans to attend New Mexico Junior College’s nursing program to specialize in midwifery, wasn’t a big fan of the parade, mostly because it took place during the hottest part of the day.
“Maybe if they did this later in the day or evening and make a party of it, that would be cool,” Welch said.
Xavier Turrubiates, who plans to begin a career as an electrician with Klein Electric, had hopes of a traditional commencement. He had plans of walking the stage and seeing his family and friends celebrate this 12-year accomplishment.
“I just wish it was more like the usual,” Turrubiates said. “But to get to celebrate with our classmates is something we’ll appreciate. That’s all that really counts.”
Next to Turrubiates was Adolfo Valadez, who plans to attend New Mexico State University and study mechanical engineering, said he’s just happy the school district did something to celebrate the Class of 2020.
“It’s better than nothing, but it could have been better,” Valadez said. “I just wished the virus didn’t pop up. It is something different though.”
The decision to have the parade as an alternative was devised by the Lovington Schools Board of Education and Superintendent LeAnne Gandy. It was done as a way to celebrate the graduates, while also staying within Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s state mandates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. School board president Greg Maxie said Monday the decision initially turned controversial among many parents and community members on social media who wanted to wait until the mandate was lifted or eased.
“For one day, some of the divisiveness that has been happening in our community over this health crisis was satisfied,” Maxie said. “We came together to honor the hard work these students have accomplished for the past 12 years. It was very unifying. I saw people who savaged us on social media and people who supported us on social media and everyone waved and congratulated those kids. No one was ugly.”
As the parade continued, Maxie said he got some comments from participants who enjoyed the parade and felt it could become an annual part of the graduation celebration. With a couple of modifications, of course.
“It was discussed about maybe doing it when it cooler,” Maxie said with a laugh. “Yeah it was a little hot. But I had people saying maybe we could do this the Saturday night before graduation and light up the whole downtown area. It’s something we, as a board, have not discussed, but it can’t be ruled out. I saw a lot of people having fun out there. That’s always good to see.”