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COVID Cuts Short ‘Peak of Happiness’ for VMCHS 2020 Grad

Calexico’s Anna Gabriela Davalos defines her senior year at Vincent Memorial Catholic High School as a peak of happiness in her life. She described how she came to this realization while at a senior retreat centered around personal reflection, faith development, and bonding.

Vincent Memorial Catholic High School graduate Anna Gabriela Davalos of Calexico is shown in her cap and gown in her senior photo. COURTESY PHOTO

“My senior year was the best year. I have never had (this) many friends that I truly think are real.” Davalos said. “These people make me feel like I have a second family. We just all love each other.” 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, her senior year was cut short. She got the news on her birthday.

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“When it was announced that we weren’t going back to school, it was my birthday,” Davalos said. “I didn’t think it was going to last this long.”

She is saddened by the reality that she did not celebrate her last birthday in high school, her 18th birthday, with her teachers and classmates.

“I do feel like the pandemic affected not only my life but the life of seniors everywhere,” Davalos said. “I do have very close friends whose family members have died, who have cried to me over the pandemic. I know we are praying for so many people everywhere.”

Davalos is one of the 57-member Vincent Memorial Catholic High School class of 2020, which graduated May 29 during a virtual ceremony.

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Although it could not immediately be confirmed, it is believed this is the first time in many years that a Vincent Memorial graduating class did not have a combined Mass and graduation ceremony in a house of worship, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the graduating class watched the pre-recorded online ceremony at home with family.

“Father Ken” opened the virtual ceremony.

“This graduation of 2020 is like no other,” said the Rev. Kenneth Del Priore, better known as “Father Ken” to the many Vincent Memorial youths over the years who have attended the Kairos fellowship retreat in Pine Valley that Davalos was referring to earlier.

“But your youth, your intelligence, and especially your love of what is right and true, will carry you and allow you to fulfill your dreams and desires,” Del Priore said.

In the spirit of Vincent Memorial’s Catholic tradition, Del Priore continued the ceremony with a prayer and concluded with a reminder to continue social distancing.

Vincent Memorial High’s principal, Sister Lupita Hernández, of the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, addressed the graduating class.  

“God has a unique path for each one of you, but you need to have goals, motivation, courage, and most importantly, faith to follow your path and get whatever God wants you to be,” Hernandez said. “Use your gifts and talents to be the best person you can be, remember that is what makes you a great person is your heart, kindness and humility.” 

Lourdes Ramirez, a teacher at Vincent, introduced each of the graduates, including Davalos, who attended the private Catholic school for all four years of her high school career.

Davalos was active on campus and was a part of the Hispanic literature drama club, film club, choir, youth group, softball and soccer teams, and volunteered to help on her class’ board.

Senior Anna Gabriela Davalos of Calexico (arm raised giving the peace sign) poses with members of the Vincent Memorial Scots girls’ soccer team in a photo from winter 2019/spring 2020. COURTESY PHOTO

She wasn’t always so outgoing. Actually, high school got off to a rocky start for Davalos.

Still known as the girl who sings at Vincent, that wasn’t always a good thing, she explained.

It’s a central theme in one of the memories that stands out most from her high school career. It was also a turning point for her, of sorts.

“Being a freshman was hard already, but people, knowing I was a singer, signed me up for the talent show,” Davalos said. “It was a boy who played the ukulele, a beatboxer, and I.” 

They were nervous since they were new to the school and were about to perform in front of everyone.  

“My voice was nervous at first, but then I started to sound better,” said Davalos. “You start hearing everyone cheering, wanting me to succeed when I thought everyone wanted me to fail. We finished, and everyone loves it. It’s amazing you can hear the crowd cheering and people standing up.” 

Soon after, seniors were coming up to her and congratulating her.

“My little freshman heart wanted to die,” Davalos said with a laugh. “I think that little thing, singing, defined me in high school — I became known as the girl who sings at Vincent.”

Davalos shared how her high school journey was full of ups and downs.

“I didn’t have many friends at the beginning. There was a while I was alone, and I didn’t know what to do,” said Davalos. “Because I could not find where I fit in for the first years — it was hard because I felt alone.”

But things started to look up for Davalos in the second part of her sophomore year. 

“I started hanging out with people, being more outgoing, playing soccer, and I got closer to people,” Davalos said. “And I started having so much fun at Vincent. I met people I never thought would think the same way as me, and we had fun together.” 

That’s why having her senior year cut short by the novel coronavirus pandemic had such an impact on her.

Still, Davalos is grateful that the pandemic brought her closer to family.

“This pandemic has taught me that I am fortunate enough to have my whole family here,” Davalos said. “Even though we get tired of each other, I am very grateful for them. I have a new appreciation for them.” 

Hopefully, depending on the state of the pandemic, Davalos will be attending Westmont College in Santa Barbara to study English and Spanish literature. Eventually, she would like to study literature abroad and possibly go to graduate school. Having been a tutor for many years, she is passionate about teaching and hopes to do so for a living.

“Other than that, I want to take it a step at a time because the future holds many things that we can’t plan for,” said Davalos.