Now that San Juan County is Turquoise, high schools are planning 2021 graduations

Joshua Kellogg Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Aztec High School graduates toss their caps into the air on May 24, 2019. Loosened COVID-19 restrictions mean the school can hold an in-person graduation ceremony this year, with guests, at Fred Cook Stadium.

FARMINGTON — San Juan County's move into the less-restrictive Turquoise Level of COVID-19 restrictions on May 5 permits high schools to plan graduation ceremonies in venues that can hold the maximum number of guests allowed under the state's public health orders.

Public schools operating under the New Mexico Public Education Department can host ceremonies up to 75% of a facility's capacity.

Most ceremonies are being held at high school football fields to allow graduates to invite the greatest possible number of guests.

Aztec High School's ceremony happens on the night of May 21 at Fred Cook Stadium, and each graduate will get 10 tickets. The Vista Nueva High School ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 19 at Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater in Farmington. Each of the graduates will be given 17 tickets.

Previously:Colleges, high schools prepare for graduation season in a time of changing health rules

Farmington High School's ceremony is set for 7 p.m. on May 18, Rocinante High School's is set for 6 p.m. on May 19 and Piedra Vista High School's is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on May 20. Piedra Vista and Farmington High students will each get six tickets. Rocinante's students will receive eight tickets each. All three ceremonies will take place at Hutchison Stadium.

Members of the Farmington High School Class of 2019 wait their turn to walk onto the Hutchison Stadium field for their commencement ceremony on May 21, 2019. The school held a drive-thru ceremony last year, but grads will attend an in-person event this year while following the state's COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Senior year ends with remote learning in Aztec, Farmington

The Aztec Municipal School District and Farmington Municipal Schools both decided to move all seniors to virtual/remote learning to ensure as many graduates as possible can attend the ceremonies without being quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure.

Aztec High School Principal Warham Hall told The Daily Times the graduates appeared to understand the district's intentions for the shift.

The senior awards ceremony was held virtually, and an honors banquet was held outside on the high school lawn. The honorees received pre-packaged meals, Hall said.

Restrictions:San Juan County moves to Turquoise, along with most of New Mexico

Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt wrote in a May 4 letter that this alternative offers the best solution for seniors, and families who want to see them walk the graduation stage.

"This shift will dramatically lessen positive (COVID-19) exposures among seniors," Schmidt said.

The Farmington high schools held a virtual ceremony with drive-thru diploma distribution last year.

Bloomfield High School graduate Cristopher Wethington walks toward the stage during the commencement ceremony on May 23, 2019 at Bobcat Stadium. Bloomfield's high schools will hold a combined in-person ceremony this year.

Combined graduation ceremony in Bloomfield

Seniors at Bloomfield and Charlie Y. Brown high schools will continue in-person learning, according to Superintendent Kim Mizell.

The combined commencement ceremony for both schools is at 7 p.m. on May 21 in Bobcat Stadium, where graduates will each receive seven tickets.

Kirtland Central High School graduates are led in the ring and tassel ceremony during the May 25, 2019 commencement ceremony at Bill Slade Stadium. The Central Consolidated School District plans in-person graduations at its high schools.

CCSD plans in the works

The Central Consolidated School District will hold in-person ceremonies at its four high schools.

The district is finalizing details. High school principals have until May 16 to release those plans, CCSD Spokesman Roberto Taboada said.

Ceremonies will take place for Career Prep High School at 7 p.m. on May 19, Shiprock High School at 7 p.m. on May 20, Kirtland Central High School at 7 p.m. on May 21 and Newcomb High School at 10 a.m. on May 22.

"Ceremonies and processions will be abbreviated and will include additional safety measures," states the announcement on the district's website.

CCSD will limit the number of tickets issued to students. The number will be based on venues and capacity restrictions. Each ceremony will be recorded, and the district is working on livestreaming.

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"This is one of our favorite events for the staff to attend, for our superintendent, for our principals but it's also something that we look forward to, especially since last year we couldn't do it," Taboada said.

Graduates from Northwest Middle and High School at Shiprock Associated Schools will have a hybrid ceremony on May 14 or 15, as details continue to be finalized, according to Executive Director Rick Edwards.

A socially distanced in-person ceremony will take place for graduates in the school's courtyard. A drive-thru procession line will take place afterward.

Edwards said it was a breath of fresh air that Navajo Nation schools would be allowed to host in-person ceremonies.

Health guidelines issued by Navajo Nation

The Navajo Department of Health issued on May 6 guidelines for graduations held by high schools, colleges and universities on the tribal land.

While these entities can hold in-person outdoor graduations, the guidelines explain procedures for reducing transmission of COVID-19.

Other grade levels are limited to events held virtually, livestream, drive-thru or drive-in or by car parade. Head Start programs can only hold virtual or livestream events.

"Last year, all in-person graduation ceremonies were prohibited because of the outbreak of COVID-19. Now that we have well over half of the adult population fully vaccinated, our public health experts have developed requirements and protocols for schools, students and families to follow. We ask that each school comply with all requirements and guidelines to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in the press release.

Two ceremonies at Navajo Tech

Spring commencement at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint will be held in two ceremonies on May 14.

Students who earned certificates will be recognized at 10 a.m. and those who earned degrees will be honored at 2 p.m., according to information posted May 4 on the NTU Facebook page.

Each graduate is allowed two guests because of social distancing and other guidelines. Both ceremonies will be livestreamed on the university's website.

NASA Mechanical Engineer Aaron Yazzie will be the commencement speaker.

Yazzie is a mechanical engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. where he designs mechanical systems for NASA's robotic space research missions, according to NASA website.

His work has contributed to the missions to Mars, including the flight hardware for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover that landed on the planet this year.

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