How Teens Across Colorado Are Taking The Pandemic In Stride

Dorsey Dick lives in Towaoc, a town inside the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, which sits between Colorado and Utah. In normal times, he attends Montezuma-Cortez High School, in Cortez, Colorado. But these days, he’s spending his time at home and he noticed he’s starting to become more like his family. First, he started watching the news like his parents. Second, he started drinking coffee — straight, no milk or sugar.

“And that’s my grandfather’s favorite way to drink it and I’m thinking ‘OK, now I’m like my grandfather,’” he says. “I sat there and I appreciated that moment. And I was like, ‘I’m getting mature, I’m getting older.'”

In the heart of a pandemic that has upended the lives of most Coloradans and brought an abrupt end to the last year of high school for students across the state, Dorsey is finding the joy of being with his family and seeing them in himself.

“My mom always tells me, ‘You are Kin ł ichii’nii, you are Red House,’” says Dorsey, referring to his lineage. “I always tell people, ‘I am my mom and my mom is who I am,’ just because your first clan is always your mother’s clan.”

“I come from a long line of Kin ł ichii’nii and they have given me the strength to be who I am,” he says. He says recognizing that and all the people he’s descended from has given him strength. “Those clans have helped me to be the person I am and get through these difficult times.”

That’s one of the many ways seniors across the state are rising to meet the challenge of COVID-19. CPR News spoke with Dorsey, and others, about what they’re doing to mark the end of their high school careers and make peace with the changes the pandemic has brought.

Dorsey Dick, 18, Towaoc, Ute Mountain Ute Reservation
Senior at Montezuma-Cortez High School

Dorsey misses school. He misses the one-on-one with teachers and his sculpture and jewelry class. He asked his mom, who does beadwork, to buy him some cheap paint. Now, Dorsey stays up late, just painting.

“It’s a stress reliever with this all going on and it allows me to express myself on paper,” he says. One of his first paintings has a background of bold red and orange stripes with four white hands on top. “It’s my father’s hand, my mother’s hand, my hand and my little brother’s hand. It’s just called, ‘The hands that hold me up.’ These hands are what hold me up as a person.”

With less course work, Dorsey has to find new ways to stay busy. His father helped him fix up an old bike and he’s been biking up Ute Mountain a lot. His grandfather has a heart condition but told Dorsey he’s trying to stay healthy to see his grandson graduate and go on into life.  

“My grandfather and my mother, they’ve taught me that life is going to give you situations, but you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches, roll with the waves, be able to take on whatever it may be.  I may not have a graduation or prom, but I get to spend time with my family and kind of build those relationships.”

Future Plans: Dorsey will attend Fort Lewis College next in the fall. His dream is to become an environmental lawyer.

Courtesy Morgan Emmerling
Morgan Emmerling of Lakewood will graduate from Bear Creek High. She’s been reading a lot of dystopian novels and has taken up baking, painting and spending a lot more time with her mom.

Morgan Emmerling, 17, Lakewood, Colo.
Senior at Bear Creek High School

Morgan is sad about missing graduation and prom. She found a $15 dress from Goodwill she was planning to wear. “It’s cute,” she says. But it seems like her mom might be sadder. For months, her mom had been talking about Morgan’s graduation party and what they’d eat and the cookies they’d bake for guests.

“When she got the email that school was canceled for the rest of the year — don’t tell her I told you this — but she just hugged me and cried for a long time,” she says.

But Morgan herself is sadder about missing the end of a special class at Bear Creek called senior field studies. It culminates in a backpacking trip, which did happen. But the school canceled a long rafting trip and a stay with a Colorado farm family.

“I was really excited to see how they live because it’s really different from how I live,” she says. She was excited to see what their work day was like, what farm kids are like. 

The teacher and students get close in the class, and it all came to an abrupt end. “It’s like a little family,” she says. “I also miss Mr. Portentas (field studies class teacher) because he’s just an awesome teacher and an awesome guy. I miss him cracking his dad jokes!”

At the beginning of stay at home orders, Morgan was moody and snapped at her mom. Now she’s in a better rhythm, reading, baking and working part-time at a pie store. Pre-pandemic, she didn’t get to see her mom much because when her mom got home from work, Morgan went to work. Her mom works from home now.

Still she’s had to mourn missing out on some big landmarks.

When she toured the school as a freshman, she says, she remembers people talking about graduation. “You can see Red Rocks from the windows in the library and every time they look at the freshmen and they say, ‘Look, that’s Red Rocks. It’s where you’re going to graduate in four years.”

Morgan won’t be graduating at Red Rocks. She’s been to graduations there before as a member of the choir so she knows what it’d be like. Missing the ceremony isn’t bothering her too much. “It takes so long and it’s not the most riveting thing,” she says. But when she thinks about not singing one last time with her friends, “that’s a little bit soul-crushing.”

Future plans: Morgan will attend Colorado State University in the fall. However, if classes are online, she’d like to postpone going to college.  She and a friend are thinking about taking a year-long van road trip. Maybe she’ll see some of those family farms after all — even at a distance. 

Wyatt Lockwood, 17, Yuma, Colorado
Senior at Lone Star School

Six hundred miles at the opposite end of Colorado, Wyatt says the school shutdown has opened up more opportunities. He now gets up at 5:45 a.m. “to just wake up in the morning and feel good about myself.” He still has his two high school agriculture classes on Zoom on Fridays, and he has hours of homework for his four online college classes.

But now, instead of working just after school, Wyatt can work full-time at a farming supply store. “I’m pretty busy but I get to make money and I get to do my college classes.” 

After that he’s off to feeding the animals on his family’s farm.

“I have my own sheep. I have 15 head of ewes and 23 head of lambs that just got done lambing. So they’re still in kind of a fragile stage and I have to check them frequently.”

Wyatt is not too disappointed about graduation and prom — there are only three people in his graduating class. “You don’t get to see your friends but at the same time, it’s not like they’re gone forever. We still live in the same town.”

Wyatt is pretty sad he’ll miss out on the Future Farmers of America or FFA competitions and the FAA banquet. It might “shock a lot of city people,” but it’s a really significant moment for him and his family.

Each kid gets to stand up and address their parents. Wyatt says he would have thanked them, told them he didn’t squander all they sacrificed.

“I’m not a terribly emotional person, but I probably would have cried and probably tried to get some tears out of my mom.” 

His advice to underclassmen? “Appreciate all the experiences and opportunities that are afforded to you in high school because they can go away faster than anyone could have thought, especially with a worldwide pandemic!”

Future plans: Wyatt has a sponsorship from a farm equipment dealership in Holyoke to study for an applied associates degree in diesel technology at North Dakota State College of Science. Wyatt would like to be in the precision agriculture side of industry — “all the electronics associated with spraying and planting and GPS.” 

Left: Christopher (front) and Christian Speller (back) of Aurora will graduate from Rangeview High School. Though they didn’t get to play in the state basketball finals because of COVID-19, they’re looking forward to playing ball in college. Right: Wyatt Lockwood of Yuma will graduate from Lone Star School. He’s working full time now, taking four on-line college classes and taking care of his animals on the farm.

Christian and Christopher Speller, 18, Aurora, Colorado
Seniors at Rangeview High School

The Speller brothers, who are fraternal twins, remember the sweet taste of victory one year ago at the state basketball championship. It was the Rangeview Raiders’ first state basketball trophy since 1985. And the brothers were ready to do it again in 2020 — until the coronavirus outbreak.

“Basketball has been everything to me growing up,” says Christian. “I’ve been playing it for as long as I can remember.”

The team was undefeated this year.

“I’ve always dreamed of winning multiple state championships in high school,” Christian says. “We had an opportunity to do it again this year, to go back to back on an undefeated season. It was just going to be perfect to end our high school career.”

The team made it to the Final Four of the State 5A tournament. But then just like that, it was gone.

“It leaves an empty feeling [like] we didn’t really do anything,” says Christopher.

His brother agrees. “There’s a feeling of emptiness, not having closure, at least knowing what the outcome was going to be.”  

Their dad is the Denver Nuggets public announcer and the team chaplain, and has been encouraging the boys to find the silver lining in this strange moment.  Christian says his father tells his sons to be patient, stay strong, and “we’ll be back to normal times in no time.” 

Some of that has rubbed off on the twins.

“This is a learning lesson and we shouldn’t really take life for granted,” says Christopher. “This is what this is teaching me and I should just enjoy all the moments that I have.”

The boys try to keep their minds off the state championship that never was, with extra school work, video games and workouts.

“Even though we may not get to finish this year, we still have the rest of our basketball careers to get ready for,” says Christian.

Future plans: Christian has a full ride scholarship to Metro State University and Christopher a full ride to Colorado Mesa University.

— to www.cpr.org

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