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SSAE Grads a New Class of Trailblazers

On a bright and clear morning Friday, May 22, a steady line of cars slowly circled the drop-off loop in front of Vista Ridge High School. In each vehicle sat a purple-robed member of the Springs Studio for Academic Excellence graduating class of 2020.

SSAE grads wait to be recognized during their graduation ceremony May 22

Following closely to a plan that met El Paso County Public Health guidelines for graduation ceremonies, a gloved-and-masked-member of the SSAE staff checked each graduate’s temperature to make sure they showed no signs of a fever before handing them a small folder for their diploma. The line of cars then moved steadily to the VRHS student parking where SSAE Assistant Principal Adam Barela directed them to a marked parking spot.

And so began the first graduation ceremony in District 49 in the era of COVID-19.

“It’s not what I expected whatsoever in any way, form or fashion,” said Jonathan Martens, who started his senior year anticipating he’d have a traditional graduation ceremony. “But I absolutely love what they’ve been able to do given the fact that we have to stay separated and all that stuff.”

Forty-five out of a total of 61 SSAE grads, and a few family members sat in their vehicles arranged in a wide semi-circle in the VRHS parking lot. At the top of the semi-circle’s arc, a long carpet with marks every six feet led to a podium where a small group of special guests and dignitaries shared their remarks, including SSAE Executive Principal Dave Knoche. Families tuned in to 104.7 FM to hear the speeches broadcast through their car stereos.

“I want to let you know that your educational journey was a trailblazing journey. This journey will have helped revolutionize education as we know it. Our online, blended, hybrid-models of education were once considered non-traditional models until COVID arrived,” Knoche said. “Now the world is trying to figure out what you’ve been doing for years and consider this the new norm.”

SSAE Graduation Awards List

Senior speaker Macey Van Vleck encouraged her classmates to seek out their fullest life.

“Right now is the best time for uncertainty,” Van Vleck said. “You have nothing holding you back from moving toward the things you want and working toward the discovery of things you don’t.”

At the conclusion of the speeches and a video spotlighting each of the SSAE grads, the speakers invited students, six at a time, to wait on the marked carpet. When they heard their name announced, each grad walked past the podium to celebratory honks from the crowd of parked cars.

Jonathan Martens’ mother Lisa sat in the cheering section, watching her son walk past the podium wearing the same pajama pants he often wore as he finished his senior year learning remotely from home.

“[The SSAE staff have] gone above and beyond to make these kids feel special, so it’s almost more special than the traditional graduation,” she chuckled. “He will never mix up this graduation with anybody else!”

Click the E49 or Facebook logo to see the SSAE Graduation Photo Album:


David Nancarrow