Last month, Desert Valley Elementary School in the Peoria Unified School District held a surprise graduation ceremony for student teacher Claudia Vasquez. Mrs. Vasquez was set to graduate from Grand Canyon University, but unfortunately the graduation ceremony was cancelled due to the pandemic. Upon hearing the news of the cancelled event, Desert Valley’s leadership decided to hold their own surprise ceremony just for Mrs. Vasquez.

Desert Valley principal Tonja Neve set up a mock meeting for her to attend right after school while Mrs. Vasquez’ husband brought in her cap and gown during the meeting. After revealing the surprise, Mrs. Vasquez has time to dress for her special occasion and met her colleagues outside in the amphitheater. Desert Valley staff dressed in their own caps and gowns, and socially distanced, celebrated the accomplishment.

“Claudia is one of those people you love to work with,” shares principal Tonja Neve. “She is humble, dedicated, selfless, funny, and kind. It brought tears to our eyes to honor such an amazing woman and future educator. When we heard her ceremony was cancelled due to COVID-19, we knew we had to do something for her. No one is more deserving of a little recognition for all of her hard work and triumphs.”

Mrs. Vasquez was overjoyed by the friends, family and colleagues who showed their support for the Grand Canyon University graduate.

“Upon completing my student teaching and earning my bachelor’s of science in elementary education, Grand Canyon University notified me that my graduation ceremony would be cancelled due to COVID-19,” Mrs. Vasquez says. “I was truly disappointed and shared that news with Mrs. Neve and Mrs. Gomez, as well as some of my friends from Desert Valley. Little did I know, my Desert family came together to give me my own graduation ceremony. Some of the staff wore their caps and gowns, gave wonderful touching speeches, decorated the amphitheater, and contacted my family, including my parents. Desert Valley made me feel beyond special. Most of them have walked this academic journey with me. They have supported me, offered me their experience, and encouraged me to keep going, especially when I had moments of frustration. I am forever grateful to every single person at Desert Valley for making this happen, for inspiring me to become part of the wonderful world of educators, and for giving me an unforgettable memory. I will always cherish this expression of love and celebration of my accomplishment.”

Prior to being a student teacher, Mrs. Vasquez served as registrar for Desert Valley for 12 years and spent time as an attendance clerk at Ironwood High School. Mrs. Vasquez hopes to secure a permanent teaching position now that she has graduated.