Each year we host an end of year graduation party for our Escalera college access high school seniors. The event fills Casa Azafrán’s Flatrock rooms with seniors from Overton, Cane Ridge, and Glencliff High Schools, accompanied by many family members. Families enjoy a delicious meal prepared by one of our Mesa Komal Culinary Incubator food entrepreneurs, pose for pictures at our photo booth, and receive certificates. 

To keep this tradition alive during the pandemic, this year we celebrated seniors in the form of a “drive-up” photo booth at Casa Azafrán. Each student signed up for a 10 minute slot to come to Casa Azafrán with their families, and take a picture at our photo booth set up outside at Azafrán Park. This is our creative way of celebrating these students who are undoubtedly completing a huge milestone for themselves and their families by finishing high school and pursuing secondary education.

Read reflections from our education team staff, and see more pictures below

Elizabeth Narvaez-Vega — College Access Program Coordinator

I am incredibly proud of the innovative and resilient forces that my students are. Being the first to go to college and for some to graduate from high school is not an easy journey and even more so under unusual circumstances. Despite this, my students faced these unique challenges with grace and continue to inspire those who surround them. Typically, we would have celebrated our students in the classroom with a big graduation so we wanted to capture that energy and recreate a moment where we could celebrate them and their families while being safe and healthy and we were able to do that through a social distancing photo booth, which was amazing! Seeing families smile incredibly big, posing with their graduates served as a reminder of the importance of college access work in our Latinx and POC communities.

Carlos Miranda Pereyra — College Access Program Coordinator

While this time of year is bittersweet for graduating seniors, this year has been an especially emotional one. 2020 has been a particularly tumultuous and confusing time for Nashvillians. For my students, it’s been no different. COVID-19 and the tornado exacerbated their existing anxieties as young adults on the verge of a new chapter in their life. Many also nervously wait for a DACA Supreme Court decision that will undoubtedly impact their futures. Nevertheless, my seniors remained unwavered and committed. I’m so proud to have been their Escalera coordinator and I am happy that we were able to put together a photo booth for them. I am happy to see their pride glowing in their parents’ eyes and confidence with which they stood up, certificate in hand, and smiled at their futures, hard-earned and bright. I’m glad that we were able to capture those moments in our cameras so that when we all look back to the memories of this year, we’ll know it wasn’t all bad. We’ll remember our Escalera community and how our students, parents, and Escalera Coordinators supported and lifted each other and things were OK.

Melissa Cornejo — College Access Program Manager

I am so proud of our class of 2020 who is gone through so much these past few months. It has been hard to hear their disappointment at missing so many special events and moments which normally happen in person—the last day of high school and throwing their papers in the air as the final bell rang, throwing their graduation caps after their graduation ceremony, going to prom, and so much more. Under normal circumstances we celebrate each of our cohorts and have an end of the year party at our high school site and a group celebration of all three high school graduates along with their families and loved ones. These moments and celebrations are especially important for our Escalera students, as many are celebrating being the first to complete high school let alone being the first to embark on their college degrees. We wanted to offer a way to still capture these memories and this special time in one’s life for the students and their families to remember the significance of these accomplishments and all of those to come.