Despite coronavirus setbacks, Marfa celebrates its graduates

Marfa High School senior Juan Martinez and his dog Butch took part in the class of 2020’s graduation parade last Friday evening. The school and city officials worked together to put together a parade that celebrated graduates from a safe distance, because of fears over coronavirus. Photos by Maisie Crow

MARFA — “I’m nervous and happy,” Juan Martinez, Marfa High School senior said over the roar of a yellow Ford truck as he stood in its bed. His dog, Butch, was along for the ride. “I did not expect this at all,” Martinez said about the socially distanced graduation parade that was about to begin.

Last Friday evening, Marfa High School held its first senior parade, an event thrown together by school staff and city officials in place of the usual prom, senior trip and graduation activities that have been canceled as a precaution against coronavirus.

“It’s different, but I think we’ll all get through it, and let’s hope for the best,” Martinez said. He’s off to El Paso’s Western Tech to become a diesel mechanic after graduation, a fitting choice for the young man smiling from the steadily rumbling truck.

Parents and friends were busy until the last minute, taping purple and white streamers, posters and shiny 2020 balloons to their parade float vehicles. In the school parking lot, one dad helped his student ascend a step ladder onto the hood of a truck. Other students in purple caps and gowns rode in truck beds or passenger seats, while some drove themselves, honking ceremoniously before they set off toward the courthouse.

“Gotta love small towns,” outgoing principal Dr. John Sherill said through a smile as the graduating seniors circled their vehicles in the school parking lot.

Tais Chanez gets ready to ride in the graduation parade while her son, Emmanuel, waves from her lap.

Family members of the graduates were given parking spots on the parade route around the courthouse and asked to tune into Marfa Public Radio to hear senior spotlights and the traditional Pomp and Circumstance graduation song. Community members filled in the rest of the route along Lincoln and Highland Avenue.

From the hood of a white truck, senior Tais Chanez and her seventeen-month-old son Emmanuel waved to family and friends. Roxanne Lujan, Chanez’ family friend, drove, and Chanez’ mom ran along the route, finding her daughter three separate times to wave and cheer her on.

“The best part of it was when I was passing my family, because I saw them, and they were just so proud because I’ve made it this far,” Chanez said. “Having a son and becoming a single teen mom, then caring for him – I breastfed him for 15 months, still playing sports – it made them proud, and seeing how proud they were made me proud of myself.”

For Chanez, it only felt fitting to include her son in the graduation celebration. “I’ve been trying to make him a part of everything I’m going through. Since the day he was born, everybody’s been so supportive and loving of him.” She fondly recalls friends touching her belly at school during her pregnancy and her babyshower, which friends came to after their basketball game. “For senior homecoming he was in the senior skit. I just needed him there, you know? He’s been a huge part of everything. I wouldn’t be a three-year graduate without him.”

“For me personally, I worked my butt off since I got pregnant going into my sophomore year. I was looking forward to senior year,” Chanez lamented.

She talked about the tough year Marfa High School seniors have faced together. After a last minute cancellation from the opposing team, Marfa lost its homecoming game this school year. “Then we left for spring break, and we took for granted sitting together at lunch and things like that,” Chanez said. “It’s hard to not be able to go back, and knowing we will never be going back, in a classroom together, at lunch together, or just being there as students.”

But the senior also feels like they are making a little Marfa history, “and I’m trying to look at it like that. The parade was something new and something we all enjoyed,” she said. “Even though our prom and senior trip got canceled, we’re trying to make the best of it at this point.”

“I just felt happiness,” she said after the parade. “It was amazing seeing how close our community is.”