EL CENTRO — Graduating seniors walked on a red carpet to receive a blessing from the parish priest Sunday evening, May 31, at Saint Mary Catholic Church in El Centro. 

Participants at Blessing Graduates 2020 almost filled the parking area. Several cars had messages written on them and decorations — inflatable year 2020 mylar balloons and posters with life-size photos of the graduating seniors. 

Each car at the parking lot was occupied by a graduating senior accompanied by their families. While the atmosphere was festive, the celebration among the seniors was restrained.  

“It’s been a hard time for graduates this year. This is our way to strengthen in their faith and to thank God for their achievement,” said Father Mark Edney. 

The blessings were preceded by academic guest speakers: Todd Finnell, Ed.D., Victor Jaime, Ed.D., José Martinez, and Martha Garcia., Ph.D.

In his speech, Todd Finnell, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools for Imperial County, encouraged the graduating seniors who remained in their cars as they listened to the guest speakers. 

“You have graduated in perhaps what will become one of the most memorable years in our history,” said Finnell. “Use your strength and grace you have demonstrated during these times, guided by your faith, to extend your journey into the next chapter of your lives.” 

Finnell said, “We need you now, more than ever, to dream with us as we work toward being a better community, a better country, and a better people.” 

The speeches were followed by a parade by graduates in their own respective cars. At the direction by parking officials, they drove towards the curbside marked adjacent to a red carpet. Each student exited the car, walked the length of the carpet, and faced Father Edney — who stood by the altar. 

Father Edney raised the monstrance (a receptacle where the blessed sacrament was displayed), called the name of the graduating student, and gave a blessing. Once done, the student boarded their car and the next student came forward. 

“It feels great,” said Alan Rubio, 17, a senior at Southwest High School, who was dressed in a graduation robe and cap. Rubio and his parents brought posters congratulating him. 

According to Rubio, he will first go to Imperial Valley College and major in three areas — welding, graphic design, and animation; then, continue the same majors at San Diego State University. 

The quarantine lockdown didn’t stop Rubio from studying. While he could not be physically present at Southwest, he was able to study online classes provided by the school. But he longed for in-person associations. 

“I missed seeing my friends,” said Rubio. 

“It’s exciting to start a new chapter of my life,” said Paulina Vasquez, 18, a senior at Southwest High School. She was seated in the front passenger side of the car. Posted on the door was her life-size photograph and her name. Inside the car with Vasquez were her family members.  

Vasquez looks forward to a career in nursing. But first, she will get into the science program at IVC then transfer to SDSU. 

The lockdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic closed Southwest. But Rubio continued her studies online through Google Classroom and meetings — using the zoom app — provided by the high school. “I got a 4.0.”

Vasquez said, “I’ve missed senior activities, SAVAPA, track and field, and my friends. I wish my friends a good luck in their future. I wish them the best.”  

Father Edney encouraged the graduating students by quoting from the New Testament. “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthen me.” Philippians 4:13. Then, Father Mark told them, “Ask him to strengthen you.”

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