Graduation for San Jon High School's three seniors was moved outdoors as a drive-up ceremony due to coronavirus restrictions, but the more immediate risk Saturday seemed to be sunstroke and heat exhaustion.
Temperatures that day were forecast at 109 degrees, and the thermometer stood at 104 less than a half-hour before the ceremony at the San Jon Community Center's parking lot.
About 10 minutes before the event, a cloud from an approaching storm obscured the broiling sun, bringing a bit of relief to the seniors, school officials and spectators who opted to stay out of their air-conditioned vehicles. The ceremony also was held in a shaded area of the parking lot.
In less than 20 minutes, Nathaniel Kneitz, Jayden Johnson and Jarrett Watson each received their diplomas to a chorus of honking horns from about 20 vehicles. The trio then waved to those vehicles as they were escorted out of the lot by a village firetruck.
The three seniors originally had envisioned a barbecue and pool party in June for their sendoff. They held out for several weeks on rescheduling the ceremony, hoping Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's COVID-19 restrictions would be eased. The event Saturday originally was scheduled to be in the high school gym, but it was moved to the community center's lot less than a week before.
San Jon Municipal Schools superintendent Janet Gladu, who also acted as the official photographer for the event, said she was mindful of bad weather when graduation was moved outdoors, but the school district "didn't really have a choice" because of the ban on public gatherings.
"We were trying to get (the ceremony) in before the restrictions became even more significant," she said. "We were trying to make it so more families could attend and keep it under five people in a group.
"And this is what the kids wanted," she added.
During his valedictorian speech, Kneitz said: "It's not been an easy road, to say the least, but a chapter in our lives has come to an end."
He thanked the San Jon school and community, including shout-outs to his mother and father, David and Cheryl, and to English teacher senior sponsor Peggy Gates, who also served as master of ceremonies.
Finally, he saluted his classmates.
"We may be small, but we are mighty," Kneitz said.
Johnson, the salutatorian, kept her remarks brief.
"I'll make this fast because it's hot," she said.
All three seniors received diplomas from masked school board president Frank Gibson and a hug from their parents.
Gladu praised the San Jon Class of 2020 for its perseverance.
"These students were born at the beginning of 9-11," she said. "They have known nothing but tragedy since they were born. They've done their best making the best out of a bad situation."
In addition to many activities being canceled when the pandemic forced the closing of all schools this spring, the three seniors also saw a planned class trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, canceled.
The money that would have been used on that trip, however, was doled out as scholarships worth over $2,200 each.
The money will come in handy; Gladu said each senior plans to continue his or her education.