On Sunday, with the iconic Kremmling cliffs as a backdrop, West Grand High School’s Class of 2020 gathered in the school’s parking lot to celebrate the end of their high school careers.
Despite the nontraditional setting, the ceremony incorporated familiar West Grand graduation customs, including a video presentation featuring pictures, songs and music chosen by each senior. Honking vehicle horns replaced thunderous applause, and cheers erupted as graduates were introduced.
In a heartfelt address, graduates Emma DeSanti and Angel Castillo addressed a crowd of friends and family watching from truck beds and car roofs. The co-salutatorians described how it felt to lose nearly half of what should have been their most memorable high school year, including prom and senior trips.
DeSanti and Castillo, who have been classmates since elementary school, shared touching stories about the Class of 2020’s time growing up together – up to and including their own version of senior prank night. Prank night usually includes harmless fun on teachers and mischief in the classrooms, but this year meant soaping local business windows with messages of hope and encouragement in the midst of the COVID-19 stay at home order.
“Stay fierce, West Grand,” the duo said in unison to end their speech.
Class valedictorian Jessica Gregory shared a message of hope, strength and pride in her fellow classmates.
“This is our day, and I want you to know – I’m proud of us,” Gregory said in her address.
“We didn’t know it was our last day together when it was our last day (before spring break)…I miss all of you,” Gregory said before sharing personal memorable moments she has missed over the last two months.
“Remember to be stronger than you were yesterday,” Gregory said before concluding her speech, reiterating the pride she has for her classmates.
Commencement speaker and English teacher Melissa Johnston was selected by seniors to give the graduation address. A veteran teacher, she shared a message about grit, determination and resilience.
In addition to the usual notions congratulating students on their accomplishments, Johnston’s message was tinged with sweet, sober moments about the environment in which this class is graduating.
“The last time that I see you, I will flash a heart with my hands,” she said of not being able to hug the graduates.
“This is not the graduation any of you envisioned,” she said in the address. “You are the first class to have a celebration as unique as each and every one of you. This ceremony is something just for you – unlike any graduation in the past.”
Johnston also spoke of the graduates’ perseverance during an unprecedented time in history.
“You rose to the occasion. You didn’t give up. You attended class, turned in your assignments and supported your classmates,” she said.
In lieu of walking together down an aisle in the gymnasium lined with parents and family, graduates emerged from vehicles as their name was called, and were escorted by their parents to a pop tent one at a time.
Participation in the ceremony was limited to two vehicles per graduate, and everyone involved maintained a safe social distance. The school district also aired the ceremony on Facebook Live for those who preferred to stay at home.
Following the ceremony, dozens of cars streamed out of the high school parking lot and down Park Ave. through Kremmling. Graduates and their families were escorted by members of Colorado State Patrol, Grand County Sheriff’s Office, Kremmling Police Department, Grand County EMS and Kremmling Fire Department down the town’s main street in a parade that spanned nearly the entire two-mile stretch from West Grand High School to Kremmling Mercantile.