Monday, July 6, 2020


Moab, UT

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    Commencement at Corona Arch: Family enjoys four graduations

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    Eli Hazlett, from left, with mom, Nicki and brother, Zac, jump for joy at Corona Arch in caps and gowns to celebrate receiving diplomas this spring during the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy photo

    Scores of Moab families have celebrated graduations recently, but one Moab family has enjoyed four commencements from various schools of learning from high school to graduate school.

    Four members of the Hazlett family donned caps and gowns last week and went to the natural amphitheater of Corona Arch to enjoy a different kind of pomp and circumstance. Given the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, none of the graduates were able to march at their given institutions of study. Members of the big multi-generation family have been huddled in Moab since the virus caused shutdowns in March. They’ve been visiting Moab’s natural wonders, doting over their garden, which should bear lots of veggies in a short time, and tried to not worry about the 70% decrease in their rafting business.

    “It’s been a fun adventure in family togetherness,” said Nicki Hazlett, mom to three graduates and a graduate herself this spring, receiving her degree as a master of social work from Utah State University-Moab. “We have loved it all, except we missed the traditional celebrations of milestones. So we had to make our own celebration.”

    Nicki said one of the greatest disappointments during the pandemic has been not being able to watch her son, Eli Hazlett, run during what should have been his senior track season. Eli was poised to break some school records at Grand County High School when the season was canceled. However, he has received a track scholarship to attend Brigham Young University this fall, which will hopefully have a full athletics program.

    “We are hoping things can lift and he can run some things this summer and then be off to run in college,” said Nicki of Eli, who graduated from GCHS on May 28.

    Hazlett’s entire family except one son-in-law was able to gather in Moab to celebrate their various graduations and wait out the storm of COVID-19.

    Steve and Nicki are past recipients of the Grand County School District’s Circle of Honor award. They have worked and volunteered in nearly every facet of the district, teaching, sewing costumes for plays, coaching and supporting not just their own children, but also the entire student bodies in which their children have attended school.

    Of their downtime during the pandemic, Nicki said, “We don’t quite know what to do with ourselves except go see all the beautiful places in Moab that we never have time to see!” She says this is the “quietest summer we have had in 30 years” of doing business on the Colorado River.

    Besides visiting the natural wonders of Moab, the Hazletts have been gardening, as have so many other people this spring. “Like everyone else, we are growing a coronavirus garden.” In another month or two, she expects it to be exploding with fresh produce.

    As of their homemade commencement ceremony, Nicki said, “What better way to celebrate four graduations during a coronavirus pandemic than at Corona Arch!” Aside from her and Eli, the family celebrated the commencement of son Zak Hazlett from BYU. Zak will again attend BYU this fall on his quest to earn a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Also, son-in-law Warren Chatwin earned a Ph.D. from Notre Dame and is doing a post-doctorate fellowship in Texas.

    While things are still slow, Nicki said she will continue growing her “corona garden,” and finish a quilt she started 35 years ago.

    Like other outfitters in Moab, Steve and Nicki, owners of World Wide River Expeditions, look forward to more normal times, but for now will enjoy the company of family. “We have a hard time wrapping our heads around all the down time,” said Nicki. “Steve and I realized our sense of identity comes from being busy…We have to wake up and decide what to do instead of having a busy list of moving people…Today we should be moving 400 people somewhere on the river. Instead, we weeded the back yard for four hours and have 13 people on the river. It is really hard to know how to feel. We are grateful for down time, but it is an odd feeling.”

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