Joshua Michael Bowden

May 21 was a memorable day for Joshua Michael Bowden, a member of Mountain Pointe’s Class of 2020, and his friend Sarah Catherine Neville, a Desert Vista Class of 2020 grad. Both students have Down syndrome and Joshua’s mother Louise Bowden, executive director of the Down Syndrome Network Enrichment Center, praised both schools for helping the teens prepare for the next stage of their lives. Above, Joshua’s parents, Christopher and Louise Bowden, hosted a graduation walk at their hom, where Sherri Hoffman of Desert Vista Work Bridge congratulated the students with a gift. 

Horizon Honors Secondary School is rolling the dice and postponing any graduation until it can hold a formal commencement for its 92 seniors on Aug. 1.

The move, announced last week by Principal Cynthia Shaheen, is a significant departure from what has been done in almost all area school districts – which either held only virtual graduations or held an online graduation with the prospect of some commencement or celebration later in the summer.

“Prioritizing the health and safety of our students and staff remains the highest priority, so depending on the ever-changing circumstances we face I need to be clear that the graduation could occur as one of a variety of formats,” Sheehan told parents. “I know we will not have a mass gathering of families and friends as we have traditionally seen.  No guidelines will loosen to that extent.”

Shaheen laid out five options in order of preference and said a final decision would be made in early July. She also said regardless of what option is selected, “the ceremony will stream live via our Facebook page so all family members and friends can watch.”

The top option would be holding in-person commencement with a limit of four to six guests spaced for social distancing; the second would allow graduates with only two parents or guardians; the next would allow grads with only one parent at the ceremony; the fourth option would be graduates only. It would be online only “if we cannot maintain the current recommendations for the health and safety for all involved.”

Of the first four options, Shaheen added, “many typical ceremony elements will be included and their names will be read, they will cross the stage, receive their actual diploma and a professional photographer will take their picture.”

She also said she hopes to have a senior brunch and graduation rehearsal on Aug. 1.  The commencement itself would be at Mountain Park Church’s auditorium.

Meanwhile, virtual graduation went on as scheduled last Thursday for Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools and the other Tempe Union campuses.

The district is hoping to hold a live celebration July 18 under social distancing guidelines, but has not announced yet what those celebrations will include.

 During last week’s Tempe Union Governing Board meeting, Superintendent Kevin Mendivil praised district Multimedia Specialist Warren Cole for organizing the online ceremonies,

“He gave such uniquely individualized attention to each student, to each principal and to each of our board member during the videotaping,” Mendivil said. “He really demonstrated a true commitment to our students, to our district and families, and did so with a level of excellence that is exemplary.”

He said Cole, webmaster Nellie Mullins and Community Relations Vice President Megan Sterling made “a phenomenal team” developing the celebrations. 

Desert Vista Student Body President Morgann Kelly and Mountain Pointe Valedictorian Alan Dupre gave addresses during the virtual ceremonies.

“I know there’s a lot that happened this quarter that we weren’t expecting,” Andre said, explaining that the extended campus closure “made me realize that my experience of high school could be defined not just by what I’ve done but by who I share these experiences with.”

Those included, he continued, “My family, who has been with and supported me my entire life; my teachers and coaches, who taught a lesson that go far beyond school and sports and made me grow as a person in more ways than I can ever imagine; and my friends with whom I shared some truly incredible moments and that’s the only reason I haven’t totally lost my mind.”

“The people that we’ve been with during our time at Mountain Pointe have been incredibly important in shaping who we are and not being with any of them right now doesn’t change that and just because we won’t be students here next year doesn’t mean we have to forget any of the people that we went through high school with.”

“It’s true that we experienced a fourth quarter unlike any class before us – and. I hope, any class after us. But our past doesn’t define who we are. It just gives us a starting point for what we’re going to be,” Alan added. “A few months at home are never going to change what you have accomplished.”

 Noting the way their high school careers ended in a way they could never have imagined as freshmen four years ago, Megann told her Thunder classmates, “We didn’t take our last steps to the finish line – we drove.

“The coronavirus pandemic has become an enormous speed bump in what should be a clear road to the future. So thank goodness we’re the ones in the car because we dictate the pace and direction. Put your car in drive and safely get back on the open road.

“Thunder,” she exhorted the 765 grads, “it is clear that our maturity has been forced to surface through our experiences, making our growth unprecedented as our generation has been shaped by the March for Our Lives movement, devastating hurricanes and heartbreaking wildfires. Through witness struggle, we’ve grown more empathetic.”

“How perfectly imperfect this moment is,” she continued. “Because at the end of the day, this is just another roadblock. It is in times like these that being the Thunder is relevant. Through the darkest storms, we don’t just withstand – we roll. The lessons learned from the past four years and, more importantly, those in the past three months propel you into a luminous future.”

 The full ceremonies are at and

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