COVID-19 has made 2020 a hard year for everyone — especially for young people who have spent years waiting for the day they could walk across a stage in front of family and friends to get that hard-sought diploma.
Ruth Moreno in many ways is no different from any other 2020 high school graduate except that for every day of her high school years she has walked across two nations to get her education.
Moreno, who lives in Juárez, is one of 72 seniors at Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso, Texas, who will graduate on July 6. High school graduation will be in the school playground with students socially distanced from each other, wearing caps and gowns and masks as their families watch graduation on tablets or phones instead of in-person.
Lydia Patterson is a 100-year-old-plus United Methodist school for seventh-12th grades. It serves mostly middle- to low-income families who send their children across the bridge from Juárez to El Paso. Children wait up to four hours to cross the border and pass through one of the world’s most dangerous cities in pre-dawn, dark hours.
Like most schools around the world, in-person classes at the historic school were interrupted by COVID-19 and students finished the year taking online classes. Adding to the burdens of the students, the U.S. government also closed off the borders, causing many families in Juárez to lose their jobs.
Seventy percent of the students attending the school are from Juárez and without scholarships, most of these children would not go beyond the sixth grade, said Socorro de Anda, president of the school.
Most of the scholarships come from donations by United Methodist local churches. Lydia Patterson is supported by the United Methodist South Central Jurisdiction.
“The world has been changing these days but everything has a purpose,” Moreno said. “My senior year was unexpected and I didn’t want it to end, but I’m so grateful to Lydia Patterson for all that they have done for me. I spent four years there and I have a lot of good memories and I learned a lot more than topics, I learned how to serve and work hard to achieve my goals,” she said.
“I was not able to place seniors in United Methodist colleges like I normally do, for the obvious reason. Ruth Moreno was one of the few,” de Anda said.
Moreno plans to major in elementary education with a minor in religion.
“I’m excited about it and praying for it. I want to become a teacher and a pastor but more than that, I always want to serve others,” she said.
Moreno and her family are working to save money to pay for her books and airfare for a flight to Southwestern.
“I’m so thankful to God because Southwestern has been so attentive and it is already a blessing for me,” she said.
Moreno said her experiences at Lydia Patterson have also been blessings.
“It is a great school with excellent and awesome faculty and staff; they are not just there to teach you but also to help you during your student journey. I consider Lydia Patterson a family and when I was there it felt like home.”
De Anda said school will open Aug. 10 as hybrid — students can choose to be on campus or stay online.
“We have no idea what enrollment will be like,” she said. “We are praying that we may, at least, reach last year's enrollment. The need for scholarships is greater than ever. That is the only way students can return, as well as new students to enroll. If we have supporters partnering with us, we should be able to help many, many families.”
De Anda, who has been at the school for close to 50 years, said Lydia Patterson has been through worse tribulations.
“It (Lydia Patterson) opened during one of the bloodiest times, the Mexican Revolution. It survived two world wars, a Great Depression, numerous peso devaluations, drug wars and violence, many other pandemics, and the endless and controversial immigration issues of the border,” she said.
Moreno said she is praying the school will continue to build better lives for the international community it serves and to “bring hope for whole families.”
De Anda said “La Lydia” remains true to God’s calling to be a bridge between two countries and two cultures.
“It is this young generation that will be our future leaders. It is they who will make for a better tomorrow, and it is they whom we must look after today,” she said.
“My faith tells me that together, Lydia Patterson will come back stronger than ever. It has been very tough, but this is a ministry of God, and with God by our side, we cannot fail.”
Gilbert is a news writer for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.