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A 'special' time: Buena to recognize seniors in unique graduation ceremony

SIERRA VISTA — It may not be the graduation ceremony Buena High School seniors thought they were getting, but the administration is determined to give the Class of 2020 the recognition they deserve.

Sierra Vista Unified School District released their three-tier plan Monday for how they will proceed with graduation with social distancing guidelines in place. The plan that Buena High School Principal Kristen Hale said she and her staff are striving for will allow the seniors to take part in walking across a stage to receive the diploma, tossing of their cap and being cheered on by staff. There will be between 500 and 530 seniors in this year’s graduating class.

“Obviously no one is excited about (not having a traditional graduation), but this was the best option,” Hale said.

The plan includes scenarios for if social distancing is in place (Plan A), social distancing and stay-at-home orders are in place (Plan B) as well as if safety orders exceed what’s in Plan B (Plan C).

Under the first two plans, each senior would be allowed to bring one vehicle of family members and supporters.

All three plans consist of a virtual graduation that results in a final graduation video being released on May 21, the day the ceremony was scheduled to take place.

“Trust us that we’re going to make it fun and special,” Hale said. “The entire staff is excited to put this together.”

The final graduation video is being conducted by the school’s film and TV class. Hale said there will be special surprises for the seniors in the video.

According to the letter Hale sent to seniors and parents, “The tri-layered plan ... allows Buena High School Administration to move forward with all plans at the same time, ensuring that the Class of 2020 is able to participate in a process that will honor all of the hard work, dedication and commitments that they have made to reach this monumental milestone.”

Plan A: Social DistancingThe first option in the three-tier plan is the one Hale hopes comes to fruition and said is what they are planning for. Hale said by planning for the first scenario allows for the other two plans to be organized so if they have to switch they are prepared.

According to the plan that was shared with seniors and their families, a graduation drive-thru will be recorded at the front of Buena High School on May 14 and 15. In this plan, students will walk across a stage to receive their diploma from school and district administrators, while maintaining the appropriate social distancing. After they cross the stage, which will be recorded, they will throw their cap and get their photo taken.

Students with the a last name starting with A-L will have their interactions recorded on May 14 and the rest of the class will have their turn on May 15.

On there way out of the school the graduates will pass faculty and staff who will be in their cars showing support for the Class of 2020.

Plan B: Social Distancing & Stay at Home

Like Plan A, Plan B also requires a drive-thru to be recorded for a final graduation video. In this plan, however, the graduates are required to stay in their vehicles and will receive their diploma following proper protocols. Hale said if this is how they have to conduct the drive-thru then photos won’t be taken. Students will still be recorded getting their diploma for the final video.

Plan C: Safety orders exceed those mentioned in Plan BIn this worse case scenario situation there will be not contact at the school for seniors. This is the school’s all-virtual option. Speeches will be recorded and photos will be used to honor the graduates. The video will be released on May 21 and diplomas and other graduation material will be delivered via mail.

Community Support Parents, staff and community members are encouraged to make signs in support of the graduating seniors. Signs will be lined along the parade route for the graduates to see on their way through their drive-thru. Hale asks stakes be attached to signs meant to go in the ground, or holes punched with something to tie to the fence if that’s preferred. Signs should be dropped off at the high school, outside the main fence on May 13.

Mural gracing water tower adds a ray of hope to Sierra Vista, officials say

SIERRA VISTA — The colorful hummingbirds gracing the West End water tank have beautified this once-drab structure, and the delicate creatures also have become a symbol of hope in these COVID-19 times, a city official said.

Drive by Denman Avenue and Canyon Drive in Fry Townsite and you’ll see the giant hummingbirds suspended in air in front of cholla cacti. The mural, painted by artist Carrie Olaje of Hereford, was completed Wednesday, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.


Sierra Vista artist Carrie Olaje stands next to her mural on Canyon Drive last week.

“I think it has captured a lot of people’s attention in a positive way,” said Matt McLachlan, director of the city’s Community Development department. “It’s lifting people’s spirit. The mural turned out beautifully and the hummingbirds provide a sense of hope for a better tomorrow for our community.”

Olaje, who launched the project in mid-March just as the pandemic began sweeping across the country, said several passersby have stopped on the street to gaze at the 40-foot water tank while she worked.

“The timing was perfect for the mural,” Olaje said in a phone interview Thursday. “I think it’s something that has cheered people up.”

The artist, who is originally from Tucson, said several people waved to her while she painted the tank. She had one assistant on the ground helping her and fielding comments from the public.

“All the comments were positive,” Olaje said. “I chose this design because it has whimsy and movement. Also Sierra Vista is the hummingbird capital.”

Mayor Rick Mueller echoed McLachlan’s comments regarding the mural’s inspiration to the public.

“The art on the water tank is another example of the great work done by the Arts and Humanities Commission,” Mueller said. “As our tradition of past art in public places, it inspires us as a symbol of hope for the future.”


Carrie Olaje is a painter and a tattoo artist. She is a University of Arizona graduate.

Olaje said she spent about 100 hours painting the mural over the last month, finally finishing the effort this week when she applied sealant in order to protect the work from ultraviolet rays.

The artist will be presented with the final check from the city at noon Friday; photos of the finished product will be taken by a city planner via drone, McLachlan said.

Olaje’s design was chosen by the City Council in September. Initially, the city put a call out to artists in June 2019 seeking designs for the beige-colored tank. Thirteen artists submitted 18 designs.

Olaje and Tempe-based artist Pablo AloNzo were the two finalists chosen by the city’s Arts and Humanities Commission.

The project cost $15,000. The city contributed $10,000 from Community Development Block Grant funds and Liberty Utilities in Sierra Vista donated the remaining $5,000, city officials said.

Olaje, also an accomplished tattoo artist who plans to open her own business in Bisbee this summer, said she’s pleased the hummingbirds are providing the public with some happiness.

“Art always brings beauty, no matter what it is,” Olaje said. “Having something positive and colorful is important. People said the mural brought smiles to their faces.”

Bisbee musician Donna Kihl stands in her Warren home earlier this week. Kihl plays several varieties of instruments.