MIDWEST, Wyo. – Science and math teacher Ronni Mull handed out 13 face masks she lovingly hand-stitched with the over the past couple of months. The 14th mask, for a grad who couldn’t attend this day, would have to stay in her car.
The masks proudly displayed the school’s color and its Oilers logo. It’s a school in the heart of what was once among the most productive oil patches in the country. The school’s football field was reportedly the first in the nation to play night football under lights that blazed thanks to all that energy this state produced.
Over the past century the oil dried out, the companies took their money and left, but the people in Midwest have carried on.
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These graduates are no stranger to challenges. Their school was closed in 2016 after it was discovered that gas from an abandoned well was leaking into the building. In 2019 their football season came to an abrupt halt after their coach decided it would be safer to cancel their season early rather than risk the health of a low number of players.
Then in March, like all of Wyoming, the school’s seniors suddenly had their year cut in half.
Austin Vaughn, an honors student, said suddenly losing daily contact with his classmates difficult.
“It was one of the most stressful moments of my life,” he said shortly before graduation ceremonies on the school’s football field on Thursday afternoon. “It was the most lonesome experiences.”
All 14 graduating students helped organize the unusual ceremony, designed to keep students and families as safely apart as possible.
Immediate family was allowed in marked sections on the field as students and staff sat on chairs carefully spaced apart on the running track.
In a peculiar twist, Austin says his plans to immediately enter the workforce as a welder are probably not in the cards with the sudden economic downturn.
Instead, he’s aiming to start at Casper College in the fall.
“People have been trying to talk me into it for years,” he said.