As graduation activities move forward in Utah County and all around the country, seniors are returning to campuses for the first time since the COVID-19 virus closed all schools two months ago. Graduates were riding in vehicles with their families to maintain social distance during the ceremonies and many were seeing friends for the first time since mid-March, calling out their names in excitement.

Maple Mountain, Springville and Payson high schools were among those in Utah holding graduation ceremonies Wednesday, and despite the windy, overcast day, one common theme as life returns to some semblance of normalcy was optimism.

“I feel like there is hope again,” Springville graduate Tenley Nuttall said.

Maple Mountain student body president Brinley Holmes has had a busy and emotional week. On top of graduation, her grandmother passed away on Sunday.

“It’s just shocking because so much has happened this week,” she said. “I’m wearing her ruby ring to honor her. It’s hard but I definitely feel her with me today.”

As a member of the student council, Holmes was able to help administrators and teachers who were planning the event.

“We did some run-throughs and they asked our opinion on things,” Holmes said. “I think it was super helpful to get it all done. ‘We unite and we soar’ was our theme this year. Everything they’ve done has been fun, inviting and shows our school spirit.”

Like her classmates, Holmes is looking to the future.

“There was a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “We were asking ourselves ‘What’s going on? What are we doing? What’s going to happen?’ It was sad and hard and I was confused. But honestly, just getting to see the way the community has come together to make it better and make this a good experience for everyone has touched me so much. It shows me how much the community cares and how lucky I am to be a part of this great school at Maple Mountain. I’m optimistic, and coming here today has made it all worth it. I can’t imagine a better way to leave this school I love so much.”

Holmes plans on attending Utah State in the fall and will be a school ambassador.

“Basically it’s a leadership scholarship,” she said. “I get to go up to Logan and recruit for the school. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Another one of the 509 Maple Mountain graduates is Michael Funk, who is going to work this summer, attend fall semester at BYU and begin a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints next winter.

“I think as time has gone on, it’s gotten a little easier to think through what’s happening,” Funk said. “Initially it was shocking and threw me a curveball. I didn’t know what to think. I’ve just taken it one step at a time. I think today has been awesome, and it’s been really impressive how they have been able to pull this off. It shows how much love they have for students. I’ve been really lucky to go to this school. We have such awesome teachers and administrators.”

Springville had 450 seniors who were graduating on Wednesday. The graduates and their families drove through the parking lot while “Pomp and Circumstance” and “God Bless the USA” played through the speakers.

“I’d prefer a real graduation but at this point I will take what I can get,” said senior Tyson Lee, who is planning to attend Utah Valley University to become a Certified Registered Nursing Aide.

“I like the school pride we have here at Springville,” he said. “With the virus, I started to feel like I would never really see the end. Now that I’m graduating, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It feels nice.”

Nuttall, whose family rented a large Army transport truck for graduation, plans to attend UVU and major in special education with an emphasis on autism.

“This is a new experience but having everybody coming together as one is pretty awesome,” she said. “We’re still here supporting each other saying, ‘Go, our school!’ ”

While the district isn’t allowing large senior parties, most graduates are having some sort of celebration with family. Nuttall said someone in her family has put together a video and slideshow.

“I told them they couldn’t put my double chins in there,” she said. “That would be bad.”

Payson High School has a graduating class of 425 students. Hayden Roundy, who will attend Snow College in the fall, waited in line in a truck with his girlfriend, sophomore Arlington Latham.

“I’m happy they had a graduation for us but I think it’s very different,” he said. “It’ll be very memorable for all of us and something we can look back at. I’ll miss my girlfriend and seeing all my friends in the hallway at school. I’m already missing it. I feel good, though. I feel like everything will be back to normal soon.”

Classmate Logan Brookes, who will go to Southern Utah in the fall and plans to study in the medical field, said she’s excited to start something new.

“It’s been really crazy,” she said. “I’m glad we got a graduation. I didn’t think this would happen. It’s cool to have something to tell my kids.”

Classmate Erika Villalobos plans to study criminal justice at UVU.

“It feels special because they are doing this specifically for us,” she said. “They wanted to make it memorable and it feels great.”

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