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Joseph Andrew Lopez wanted to make sure his sister Kristen had a prom to remember.
With Texas campuses closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, seniors throughout the state have had to face the swift turn their final year of high school took. Major events, like prom and graduation, were either put on hold or cancelled all together.
Saturday, April 18, would have been Kristen’s senior Prom Night. Her dress, a floor-length champagne gown with silver and gold crystals, sequin embellishments and a rosy floral pattern, hung in her room as she cried with her mother Marissa over the event that wasn’t to be.
“I know people are like, ‘oh, it’s okay, you’ll be fine – you won’t remember it in a couple of years,’ but I’m living in the present,” Kristen said. “I wish I was able to do those things, because I worked super hard, especially in my high school years.”
Kristen is ranked in the top ten percent of her class, and also participated in several organizations to, in her words, make her parents proud and be the best student and person she could be.
“I feel like if I was able to experience those things [senior events], I would feel accomplished,” Kristen said.
Kristen is the youngest in her family – her two older brothers, also La Joya High School graduates, had already experienced their senior moments and prom night. Joseph, a sophomore at South Texas College studying criminal justice, knew he wanted to do something to ensure his sister had the opportunity to enjoy an evening she had earned after over a decade of education and extracurricular activities.
“I was fortunate enough to get a prom, and with all of this [COVID-19 pandemic] happening, she’s going to miss out on all of it,” Joseph said. “I wanted to have a small role in being able to help – she has emotions. I wanted to show her that I care about her and I’m always going to be there for her.”
Joseph said that even if prom had gone on as scheduled and his sister couldn’t find a date, he would have taken her.
“It’s her senior prom, it’s only going to happen once,” Joseph said. “She’s my only sister, it means a lot to me.”
Marissa and their father, Tony Lopez, were in on the surprise. Marissa told Kristen to put on her makeup Saturday, explaining that they would be going to get some food.
Once she had finished her makeup, Tony told Kristen to go outside and help her mom. Kristen figured Marissa needed help getting something out of the car. When she got outside, Joseph was waiting in his suit with a bouquet of flowers, smiling, standing by their parents’ Camaro.
“I was super happy,” Kristen said. “I wanted to cry, but I was like, ‘I can’t cry, I just did my makeup! I’m gonna mess it up,’ but I was super excited, and I’m so glad I have a brother like him.”
The surprise came at just the right time – the adjustment to doing schoolwork from home, without any in-person interaction, has been strange for both Joseph and Kristen, who miss their friends, teachers and the campus environment.
“It’s been stressful in a way, because all my classes have been online and all my teachers have been giving us a lot more work than usual,” Kristen said. “But it’s good that I have family here to help, especially because it’s not the same as being in the classroom.”
“I’m more used to going into class, I like to interact with other students and teachers, so this is something different for me,” Joseph added. “I still get the material, but it’s a different type of learning. It’s not the same – it’s a little bit of a change. I don’t really like moving online, but it’s what we have to do right now.”
Kristen participates in several school activities aside from academics, including cheerleading, HOSA (Future Health Professionals), DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), NHS (National Honors Society) and the student council. She plans on studying to become a neonatal nurse at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley next year. Joseph said he wished Kristen would get the full prom experience, so he wanted to make the best out of the situation for her.
“It wasn’t supposed to play out like this, she was supposed to have an actual prom, so we had to change the scenario,” Joseph said. “Basically, all we could do is just be happy after that.”
The main things she misses, other than being able to see her peers and educators, are the big moments every senior has at the end of their last year of high school.
“The only wish I have was to be able to go back to school and experience everything like our Senior Legacy Walk, our prom and our graduation,” Kristen Lopez said. “They’re just things I wish I got to experience.”
Their parents were proud to see Joseph step up to make the evening special – though not shocked.
“They had to make the best out of it, and in this case her brother was able to do that,” Marissa said. “He’s always been that way when it comes to pulling through and being there for his sister, as a support system through boyfriends, school and tough situations. Sometimes she may not want to come to us, her parents, so it’s good to know she can go to her brothers.”
Kristen got to wear her gown as she and her brother took a cruise around the area, picked up Chick-fil-A and posed at a few scenic areas around town. Joseph was part of Yearbook when he was in high school, and used his photography skills to snap some memorable shots of Kristen on an evening neither of them will forget.
“My favorite part was when I first saw my brother – that was the highlight of it,” Kristen said. “Growing up with two brothers, I wasn’t used to them being like that, they always played rough and I was left out because I’m the girl. To get this experience from my brother – it means a lot.”