By ESTEBAN CANDELARIA, Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE, NM (AP) — The largest wildfire in New Mexico history wouldn’t preclude a normal prom for students at Mora High School. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has seen to it.
Students laughed and danced with Lujan Grisham at Governor’s Mansion on Thursday night – a silver lining for students on a tumultuous end to the school year.
Many students have been forced to flee their homes by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire in recent weeks, and some had only recently returned.
“I’m so excited to be here with my friends, to be able to enjoy it and have everyone welcome us,” said prom queen Jayme Pacheco, adding that it had been more than a month since she last not seen his friends. “They mean a lot.”
Some students arrived dressed in suits and dresses while others stayed true to their roots by showing up in cowboy hats, jeans and boots.
Spanish and country music blasted through the speakers as students walked across the Governor’s back patio. Lujan Grisham said she couldn’t throw a party and sit on the sidelines, and jumped in to dance the Cupid Shuffle with students, said Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández .
“I’m just thrilled that we can do this for the kids,” New Mexico Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said. “I’ve chaperoned a lot of balls – this one is a little different than what I’ve done before.”
The idea to have him at the Governor’s Mansion was from Mora Independent School District Superintendent Marvin MacAuley. He said he asked Lujan Grisham during a conversation if the students could have a prom at her house.
MacAuley said she smiled and told him she should think about it. His team later told him the idea was a good one.
Lujan Grisham said a lot of work has been done to ensure students know they have an “entire state that cares about their happiness and well-being”.
“We need to celebrate each other, and we need to make room even in tragedy,” Lujan Grisham told the Journal. “That’s how we have to show how resilient we are…those experiences matter.”
Middle and high school principal Lefonso Castillo said this year’s seniors only spent two years in an in-person school setting, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s part of why making the end of this year as “normal as possible” was so important, he said.
Seniors have a luxury week lined up. After Thursday’s dance with the governor, 33 students are expected to graduate Friday in a ceremony at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa in Santa Fe. Many are also staying in hotel rooms funded by members of the Mora community. .
Community members also contributed prom essentials, including dresses, tuxedos and bodices. Trendy students fit right in at the stylish mansion, which even offered them a chocolate fountain.
The ball was originally scheduled for April 30, and the staff had already started decorating for the dance. But about a week before, evacuation orders came in, forcing the district to come up with a new plan.
So far, Castillo knows one or two of his students who lost their homes in the fire. The homes of three staff members were also destroyed.
“It’s once in a lifetime for sure,” senior Ellianna Martinez said of the dance. Still, she noted that the past few weeks have been difficult and that the fires have “devastated our community”.
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