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A Cheyenne South High School graduate smiles and cheers after his tassel gets stuck at the conclusion of the graduation ceremony Saturday, June 13, 2020, at Frontier Park Arena in Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – South High School Principal Phil Thompson began his remarks to this year’s graduating class in a way he never does: with a joke.

“Why are math books so depressed?” he asked the crowd gathered Saturday afternoon at Frontier Park Arena. “Because they have so many problems.”

The crowd didn’t seem particularly entertained – “This might be my last joke,” Thompson quipped after saying it – but the principal said he made the joke because it reminded him of the situation the Class of 2020 has found itself in.

“When I think about math books, they have all the answers – you just have to look for them,” Thompson said. “That’s what stands out about this whole coronavirus situation ... In May, no one thought we would be having a graduation ceremony in June, if at all, but the community got together and made what no one thought was possible happen.”

Through the community-wide effort, 213 seniors from South High School received their diplomas Saturday afternoon at a socially-distant ceremony held at Frontier Park Arena.

For the graduates, who wore black-and-gold robes with matching masks, the ceremony marked a point to reflect.

Fatima Valdivia Gomez, a senior chosen to speak by her classmates, first offered a few words in Spanish directed to her family – “Gracias por llegar sin nada, para darnos todo,” which translates to “Thank you for arriving with nothing, to give us everything” – before then addressing her classmates.

“A month ago, I had mentally prepared myself for an online graduation, as I’m sure most of my class had, so I want to thank the staff of South High School who made all of this possible,” Gomez said.

Despite the cancellation of spring events that are typically the highlights of a senior year, Gomez was optimistic that the class would learn from it.

“COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, and adapting to these changes has not been easy,” Gomez said.

“I know many of us found it very hard to continue with school through this pandemic,” she continued. “However, you are here ... that’s the mentality that high school gave us: When things becomes difficult, you don’t just sit back. You find a way to figure it out.”

After listening to remarks from Laramie County School District 1 Superintendent Boyd Brown, LCSD1 Board of Trustees Chairwoman Marguerite Herman and Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr, the seniors also got some words of encouragement from social studies teacher Reagan Kaufman, who the class chose as its faculty speaker.

Kaufman had one simple piece of advice that she hoped to leave with the graduating class: Think nice thoughts, and say nice things. With that mantra in mind, the teacher told her students to seek adventure at every turn as they enter into the next phase of their lives.

“Say yes to life – skydive, rock climb, white-water raft, change your hair color, eat weird foods,” she told the seniors. “Take a million healthy risks, because nothing causes more regrets than remembering the opportunities you didn’t take.”

A recording of South’s full graduation ceremony is available through the district’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKu9Q8mnZpA.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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