As local educational institutions grapple with graduation plans amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Pueblo Community College has decided to hold a virtual ceremony, meaning that for the first time, students from the three Southwest Colorado sites will join their fellow graduates in Pueblo and Cañon City for the event.
The commencement ceremony will wrap up what has been an unexpectedly virtual semester for students, as classes have been held online since March 30.
“It won’t be the same, but we hope that this interactive virtual graduation will be the best way to celebrate our students’ accomplishments in a safe manner for everyone,” PCC Southwest Executive Dean Samuel Dosumu said in a statement.
The college will see the first paramedics class to graduate in over 10 years – a program that perhaps has a different meaning now than it did when it began last July.
“This cohort of paramedic students has overcome many challenges, ranging from technology issues to COVID-19,” said Carter Smith, coordinator of the emergency medical services program. “They are a vibrant, energetic and intelligent group that continually strives for excellence. This class is ready to be on the front line serving our communities, now and in the future.”
PCC has campuses in Mancos, Durango, Bayfield, Pueblo, and Cañon City.
The graduation ceremony will happen at 6 p.m. on May 22, a few weeks later than was originally planned in order to give students more time to finish their required coursework. Every student will have the opportunity to submit videos and photographs, and it will be livestreamed, with students’ names, degrees, and honors read aloud.
More information about the livestream will be released closer to the commencement ceremony.
This year, PCC Southwest expects to hand out 164 degrees and 112 mini-certificates, including for the 10 who took part in the new paramedics program.
Karen Kibel, a paramedics graduate who currently works as an emergency medical technician in Dove Creek, said she’s disappointed the ceremony will be virtual, but glad that they’re doing something.
“I know I worked pretty hard towards my paramedics certificate, but I understand,” Kibel said.
She decided to pursue the paramedics certificate because she wanted to further her education. The last month has been difficult, though, particularly when trying to learn critical hands-on skills in an online setting.
“The paramedic program was pretty tough,” Kibel said. “And especially with all the challenges that COVID has given us, it’s been extremely challenging.”
Her classmate Alix Gillen has wanted to be an emergency responder since the eighth grade, when she began having seizures.
“Every time I was out in public or at school, and the ambulance would always get called, and so I’d always have one-on-one contact with the ambulance service and the paramedics,” Gillen said. “It was always a woman team, like it would be an all-female crew, which was super awesome.”
She started working as an EMT after high school.
“I decided to pay my dues and get my paramedic (certificate) so I could be a crew member that could help a little girl, like they helped me,” Gillen said.
This last semester’s online format has been unusual, with technological setbacks and “hiccups” throughout, but the challenges have made the accomplishment even greater, she said.
“I’m really proud of all of my classmates pushing through it and adjusting,” Gillen said. “I know some of my classmates have kids, and some of them don’t have great internet access, some don’t have laptops. And for them to keep going and then complete all of this course in the time that we are having right now is incredible.”
Gillen is headed next to Cañon City, where she has accepted an EMT job – she will be helping with the pandemic, and then trained as a paramedic there. The coronavirus crisis has pushed her into gear, she said.
“It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, for sure,” she said. “But that’s what I signed up for, that’s why I went to school, that’s why I put in all those hard hours. To help those in need.”