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Regional News

Springfield Grad Grateful To Walk Stage For Diploma After Hard Work During A Pandemic

For Angelle Lopez, graduating from Springfield Central High School and moving onto college is a very big deal. 

Neither her father nor mother studied beyond high school. Her mother is from Puerto Rico and speaks only Spanish. 

Angelle is the youngest of four siblings, “and I am the first one to actually get a diploma,” she said.

Teachers told her she was talented, and a counselor urged her to take honors classes.

“There were definitely days where I was sitting in chemistry class completely confused on what was going on,” she said.

But Lopez had a tight-knit friend group that supported each other. She joined a junior ROTC program that kept her focused and fulfilled. 

Lopez nervously applied to Westfield State University and remembers the day her acceptance arrived.

“Whenever I saw the mailman coming by, I would be like, ‘Is it here yet?’ And then when it finally came in, I couldn't believe it,” she said. 

Angelle Lopez on graduation day in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Credit Courtesy of Angelle Lopez / Courtesy of Angelle Lopez
/
Courtesy of Angelle Lopez
Angelle Lopez on graduation day in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Angelle Lopez and her father, Angel Lopez, on graduation day in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Credit Courtesy of Angelle Lopez
/
Courtesy of Angelle Lopez
Angelle Lopez and her father, Angel Lopez, on graduation day in Springfield, Massachusetts.

But the last few months have been tough. 

After schools closed for the coronavirus pandemic, Lopez found virtual learning hard and disconnected. She missed out on an ROTC ball she’d been looking forward to. She was also pulling long hours as a cashier at Stop & Shop. 

For Lopez and her friends, finishing school meant a lot — especially because they know many people have low expectations of districts like Springfield, with high poverty and dropout rates.  

“There's a lot of students that worked even harder than I did. And they’re first [generations] to graduate also. Or they barely made it, but they did,” she said. “I think, for an urban district, that it's very important to celebrate those who work to get out of the stereotype of living in an urban city.”

So to hear the district was cancelling the traditional graduation ceremony — replacing it with a virtual one — was devastating. She was relieved when the superintendent decided to allow schools to organize a diploma stage-walk for every family. 

“I was just happy that I was able to do something — the smallest thing,” she said.

Lopez took the gown she’d already bought for the military ball, cut it short for her graduation dress, and used the extra fabric to sew a matching mask.

As she strolled across the stage outside Central High School in her cap, gown and decorated stole, Lopez’s face was beaming. 

But while the district had announced it was taking measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19, neither Lopez nor her classmates wore a mask as they picked up their diploma. In the video her father filmed, none of the school administrators on the stage wore masks or kept social distance either, including as they handed her the diploma and helped her off the stage. 

A school spokesperson said the administrators were violating official protocol. She said she did not know whether any of the other seven high schools also conducted their stage-walks without masks or social distancing.

Lopez said the stage walk felt like a triumph, if a bit surreal. And she enjoyed watching the online ceremony separately, on the couch with her parents, wearing a T-shirt that read, “To Infinity and Beyond,” from the movie “Toy Story.” 

Looking back at graduation season, Lopez said she has no regrets. 

“I feel like that's the way you've got to live, because if you live a pessimistic life, you're going to miss all the small moments,” she said.

Lopez will spend the summer trying to make enough money at Stop & Shop to ward off college debt. 

She’s also preparing herself for the possible disappointment of not being on campus in the fall. At least she’s had experience making the best of tough situations.

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