Pomp and an unprecedented circumstance

Senior students in Summit County saw their final months of high school come to an end in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The seniors were unable to take part in traditions like attending prom and receiving their diplomas in front of a large crowd of friends and family members. The Park Record sought to highlight seniors at Summit County’s three high schools and share their perspective on finishing their senior year during a pandemic.

ABOVE: South Summit High School graduate Katie Vazquez with her dad, Gregorio Vazquez, and brother, Alex Vazquez.

Katie will head to Weber State University this fall to study criminal justice. “It’s a really big step for me. I wanna start off with law enforcement and maybe in the future I can move up to FBI.” “(Being a first generation graduate), it shows that I have something to show to my family. Something that they couldn’t achieve and it’s something that means a lot to me. There were way more people I wanted here (at graduation), but thankfully, everyone that came here today, I know that they have lots of love for me and I know that they supported me along my way.”

North Summit High School graduate Gavin McCowen will be attending Davis Applied Technical College to pursue his journeyman electrical license. He also plans to guide for RNK Hunting Company this fall.

“I didn’t participate in the FFA program as much as I would have liked,” McCowen said. “I really liked it and it was a fun program.” The Braves graduate also participated in soccer and wrestling.

“I do wish that we could’ve had an actual graduation,” McCowen said. “There are other schools that are much larger than ours that are doing something different or much better than what we got … Walking across the stage with a blank auditorium with nobody there, not even any family members besides our parents. I feel that we should still be able to hold it because our school’s smaller. But it’s alright. I’m okay with it.”

Park City High School graduate Molly Gallagher plans to attend the University of Utah this fall to major in business administration and double minor in political science and economics. “I’m in the global business scholars program, so I’m going to be doing international policy in Paris and London.”

Gallagher’s involvement with a PC CAPS project, a nutrition cart aimed to cater to after school athletes wanting a little more than what the average vending machine can offer, rose above when reflecting on the most impactful part of her time at Park City. She became involved during the fall semester when the business program stepped in to help give the cart a more structured business plan to get it off the ground.

“This is probably one of the more unique projects that the CAPS program has had here,” Gallagher said. “We wanted to provide meaningful, wholesome nutrition to student athletes after school so they don’t risk being late to their practices or games and find something more substantial than what’s in our vending machines. Offering RX bars, Gatorade, oatmeal cups … things that you wouldn’t normally find in a high school vending machine. Those would all be available for purchase for wholesome fueling for our athletes and students after school.”

Gallagher plans to check in on her successors on the project in the coming year. Until then, she’s focusing on moving on to The U.

“I’m disappointed, but life really goes on. There’s nothing I can do. Why mourn over it for an extended period of time?

“I think our class is going to be the most adaptable that this country or the world has ever seen. Even outside of COVID-19, we have been the most pressured class because we were born into 9/11, we are graduating high school into an international shutdown. Our whole lives have been determined by international crises.

“We’re not one to stand down. We’re not one to back away from a challenge. We are the most stubborn, yet the most adaptable class. I’m very excited to see where everyone else is going to go and I’m excited to see where I’m going to go.”

South Summit High School graduate Marley Smith plans to attend the University of Utah as part of its honors college this fall to study psychology. “I really want to be a therapist,” Smith said.

Smith was a founding member of the Gay-Straight Alliance at South Summit and participated in theater. “We spent so much time in (the theater) that we became a family. It’s been the most meaningful part of high school and definitely something that’s helped me a lot and helped me become who I am.”

Despite senior year being shortened, Smith is keeping a positive mindset. “There are ups and downs for sure. We didn’t get a theater competition this year. We didn’t get our spring play. Aside from that, ultimately, at least in my mind, it is what it is. And it’s better to just try to work through it than to be sad about it because being sad won’t fix it, so we might as well do the best we can to actually work forward and make sure that school’s open in the fall.”

North Summit High School graduate Mallarie Orgill will be attending Salt Lake Community College and studying Health Administration this fall. She dons cords for agriculture productions, animal science, nursing and another recognizing her achievement of a certified nursing assistant license.

The Braves graduate reflected fondly on her involvement with Future Farmers of America as well as cheerleading. “I grew a lot from that.”

“Senior year cut short — It’s honestly, it’s hard,” Orgill said. “We didn’t think (the coronavirus) would come here. We thought ‘Oh, here in Utah we’re far away.’ I think the hardest part about it was having a last date. We didn’t know that March 13th would be the last day we go to school. We weren’t able to say goodbye to those people that we wouldn’t see anywhere else. That was the hardest part.”

Park City High School graduate Britney Sanchez plans to attend the University of San Francisco as part of the school’s honors college this fall where she will major in biology.

“I always wanted to go out of state because, while I do love Park City and I love being in Utah, I really wanted to experience something different,” Sanchez said.

During her time as a Miner, Sanchez was involved with HOSA. “It’s not just about being a doctor. It includes being a pediatrician, being a surgeon. … That involvement was really helpful for me in order to really see where I want to go and what I want to study for the rest of my life.”

Sanchez, a longtime dancer, has used her involvement in the activity to “really escape everyday stress, worries and just everything that’s going on around me. When I’m in the studio, I’m really able to forget about what’s going on outside and just focus on what I’m doing in the moment.”

Like many other seniors throughout Summit County, Sanchez expressed disappointment in a senior year cut short. “It’s been really hard … I think it’s a change that nobody really expected and nobody had really experienced or could be prepared for.”

South Summit High School graduate Dylan Staples is planning to attend Mountainland Technical College to study in its welding program.

In addition to playing soccer throughout his time as a Wildcat, Staples found time to get out in the mountains and take part in a favorite pastime of his — shed hunting. “I started about eighth-grade and then I really got into it throughout high school. When I was going through hard times in classes, I’d just go to the mountains and hike around and find sheds.”

Like many seniors, Staples has mixed feelings about his senior year being shortened. “It was good and bad. It sucked that soccer season was cut short. It sucked that I didn’t have more time in the welding shop to learn more skills before I go and try and take (my craft) to the next level. But, it also did give me more time to hike around and find antlers.”

North Summit High School graduate Etimani Fa’avale is planning to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this fall. “I’m hoping for somewhere far away,” he said. Upon his return, Fa’avale hopes to follow in his sister’s footsteps and attend BYU – Hawai’i. “I want to be an engineer in technology or a photographer.”

In addition to basketball and wrestling, Fa’avale competed in boxing, football, track and soccer. “The (football) field means a lot to me because that’s where I really changed my life around. Football was always such a grind and pushed me to be a better person, a better leader and a better player. (Boxing) taught me a lot of discipline. Wrestling taught me not to quit.”

Reflecting on a senior year cut short, Fa’avale said, “It was really sad. At the first of it, I was like, ‘Well it doesn’t matter, I’m happy I’m out of school.” Then I started missing it, and then I was like ‘Well, you don’t really get another senior year.’”

Park City High School graduate Lindsay Carreto is planning to attend Utah State University this fall with a full-ride ambassador scholarship to study psychology.

During Carreto’s time as a Miner, she was president of Latinos In Action where she took part in tutoring students at McPolin Elementary School and helped to translate various events around Park City. She also joined Bright Futures where she could learn more about preparing for college as a first generation graduate.

Additionally, Carreto volunteered with Intermountain Healthcare and took on an internship at PC TOTS where she explored her interests in the medical field and working with children.

“I was really looking forward to them reading my name because like, my parents, you know, they didn’t graduate and so I’m the first one,” Carreto said about not having a formal graduation ceremony. “I cried because I was just so upset. I couldn’t believe that … all the things I was going to do, I was going to go to prom and senior skip day and the prank and everything. Yea, it was really upsetting to know that we just got cut off from that. I’m just adapting to it.”

South Summit High School graduate Gabriel Harry plans to attend the University of Utah as part of the school’s business scholars program to study business marketing. Growing up with parents pursuing advertising careers, Harry says he’s “just always been interested in it.”

“Throughout high school, I was never involved until my junior year and then I was involved in student government as a class officer,” Harry recalls. “I wasn’t planning on (running for student government) until everyone convinced me to. … Being involved has created a lot of opportunities for me and I’ve always wanted to make a difference.”

In addition to student government, Harry was a member of the South Summit High School basketball team. “It’s where I made my most memories. It wasn’t the games, it was the bus rides and hanging out with the team.”

Harry mentioned the devastation he felt after having his senior year cut short. “I wanted graduation … be a part of the senior slough week, do a senior prank. But after I realized it was over, I just kinda turned the corner and looked forward to college, looked forward to new experiences, started applying for scholarships, started just applying myself to moving on.

“I was fortunate enough because I was part of the choir so we actually sang and got to listen to the speakers. We were part of somewhat of a ceremony. But yesterday, walking … having my family there was the most important part. Having my family cheering me on as I’m walking to get my diploma. It was great. Obviously it’s not what I wished for, but it was better than nothing.”

North Summit High School graduate Kelsey Nelson will be attending Dixie State University to study cardiovascular radiology.

Reflecting on her years as a Brave, Nelson said, “I was a cheerleader and that really helped me be involved in everything. I was able to be part of every single sport. I made such a great connection with everyone because of it.”

“When we first got out and it was just the soft close we were like, ‘Oh, no big deal. We just get two weeks off like spring break.’ And it clearly wasn’t spring break. I was heartbroken because since you were little you always look forward to graduation … walking the stage and take pictures with your friends in your caps and gowns. As the time’s gone on, it’s just kinda set in. It still sucks but I’m ready to move on to the next chapter now.”

Park City High School graduates Iva Chho and Kristina Schiffman have spent the past two years with PC CAPS developing a skin cancer preventative device under the mentorship of the University of Utah’s Dermatology Department.

“The device itself is pretty small and can clip on to things like a helmet, jacket, bike, backpack, etc.,” Chho said. “It works with Bluetooth low energy to connect with your iPhone or device and determine your Fitzpatrick skin type. The app will then set certain UV exposure limits based on your skin type and will tell you when you’ve had enough UV exposure.”

The U’s Dermatology Department has since shifted from mentorship to sponsorship in order to take over the project as the girls head off to college.

Kristina will be attending the University of Utah to double major in biomedical engineering and business administration. “I eventually want to do something with start-ups with biomedical engineering or start a company. But if that doesn’t work out, then I’ll go to law school.”

Iva will study software engineering and computer and data science at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada “I really want to get into artificial intelligence or cyber-security,” Chho said. “I’m also doing a co-op program. It will take five years to get my bachelors, but every four months I’ll switch between school and the opportunity to work anywhere in the world.”

The two, like many of their classmates, are disappointed with a shortened school year, citing strong relationships with their teachers.

South Summit High School graduate Melissa Medrano Lopez with her mother, Trinidad Ruiz Lopez, and brother, Jacob Lopez, 8.

Melissa will study to become a pediatrician this fall at the University of Utah where she hopes to help people like her brother who are also on the autism spectrum.

During her time as a Wildcat, Melissa was involved with the Interact Club, National Honor Society, cheerleading and tennis. “My senior year was one of the best years I’ve had. I just really enjoyed making friendships that I wasn’t able to make early on in those years. It’s hard because I finally got to love high school my senior year and then it … you know …”

Being denied a formal graduation ceremony left Melissa feeling heartbroken. “That’s kind of what I wanted to give to my parents, you know, have them actually see me graduate, but then my mom told me that she was proud of me and that’s all I kind of ever wanted to look forward to. (She) sacrificed a lot for me and I feel the least I could’ve done was tried my hardest.”

Park City High School graduate Noah Nasser plans to attend the University of Utah this fall to study political science and international relations. “My dream job is to be a U.S. ambassador.”

As Park City’s Student Body President, Nasser was involved in almost every student-run event the Miners put on. “That’s dances, tailgates, pep rallies,” Nasser said. “If there’s anything going on with the student section at home games, if there’s any sort of coordination between the community and the high school, if there’s any sort of coordination between the administration and the students … it’s done through me. No pressure.”

“Other than that,” Nasser says, “I was involved with Natural Helpers, Hope Squad and volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters, which was really important to me.”

“Most of my anger kind of comes from graduation,” Nasser reflected. “I wrote a legendary speech, so I’m a little upset that I don’t get to share it.”