Photos and words by Gaige Davila
Port Isabel’s second class of students, 149 in total, attending their senior year of high school during the COVID-19 pandemic have graduated, amid a more joyous, hopeful ceremony than last year when there seemed no end to the virus’ grip on the world.
With more people in the Laguna Madre area vaccinated for COVID-19, graduating seniors could bring more guests than last year. Both the home and visitor seating sections were filled with the friends and family of Port Isabel’s Class of 2021.
Graduating seniors sat in the middle of Tarpon Field before a stage on Friday, May 28, where Point Isabel ISD’s (PI-ISD) school board awarded seniors with diplomas as they walked across it.
Blue Apple awards were awarded by the top five seniors in the class and salutatorian Kimberly Vela and valedictorian Neftaly Torres gave their commencement speeches. Vela highlighted the strain on the class’ mental health brought on by the pandemic.
“During this pandemic, most of us were isolated and didn’t socialize as much,” Vela said to the seniors and crowd. “Therefore there was a rise in mental health cases which sparked an awareness for it. No matter the task or how important something may be, remember that your mental health always comes first.”
Torres also highlighted the abnormal senior year she and her classmates and teachers had, discussing the COVID-19 pandemic and February’s state-wide power outage due to Winter Storm Uri.
“Our entire senior year began over a screen, which made learning much more difficult for many students and teachers included,” Torres said. “Our senior year was completely robbed of us. We didn’t have a homecoming week, missed nearly half a year of traditional learning, football games, pep rallies, and various sports. This was truly one of the greatest hardships our classmates faced.”
Torres, however, was still hopeful of the future ahead, with the end of COVID-19 closer than it was last year.
“Although this year brought an array of downfalls for our class, we will forever be remembered as the class that overcame the COVID-19 virus and the year 2021,” she said. “We may choose to see this year in a negative way, or something that unified us.”
The ceremony was capped by a firework’s display, a new addition to Port Isabel’s graduations started last year, and a performance by the Port Isabel Mariachi Plata, with some graduating seniors walking from their seats to their instruments, performing with the band for the last time.
Seniors returned their laptops and iPads, the sole devices they used to complete portions of the school year, to PI-ISD this past Tuesday.