On a sunny Friday morning, over 100 Montezuma-Cortez High School seniors celebrated a new chapter in their life at this year’s commencement ceremony.
It was sunflowers galore at this year’s ceremony, from the stage decor to students’ robes and caps. After filing into Panthers Stadium, the class of 2019 listened to speeches urging graduates to use time wisely and find their own path, and then ceremonially moved their tassels from the right to the left.
This was the first class to spend all four years in the new high school along Sligo Street, and, according to Principal Jason Wayman, “having the best hats in my seven years as high school principal.”
There was indeed quite a diversity in student caps – some chose to cover the space with designs or sports symbols, while others had full-on gardens sprouting off their heads. Scooby Doo and his gang made an appearance on one senior’s cap.
“These fine young men and women have reached a milestone in their life,” Wayman said. “And I guess it didn’t hit me until yesterday when I was shaking all your hands in practice, the pride that I feel watching each of you come up here.”
This was Wayman’s last graduation, as he announced his resignation earlier this year.
This year saw 135 students graduate, although some chose not to walk at the ceremony, according to district staff. Eighty-three students have been accepted to college, 50 students earned CTE industry certificates, and 89 students completed college courses in high school, according to RE-1 Superintendent Lori Haukeness.
For the first time, two M-CHS students also graduated with associate degrees.
The ceremony was supposed to happen Thursday night, but it was moved to Friday morning because of a forecast for stormy weather.
The black and white-gowned seniors marched in to musical performances by the M-CHS band and a group of drummers from Towaoc, and the official commencement kicked off with a presentation of the colors by the Civil Air Patrol followed by the National Anthem sung by the high school choir.
After an opening speech by Haukeness, world languages teacher Sonja Copeland recognized the 16 students who graduated with honors.
Besides Copeland, Haukeness and Wayman, who served as emcee, other speakers included Coach Bob Archibeque, Valedictorian Noah Rainer, Salutatorian Aryelle Wright and RE-1 Board President Sherri Wright.
Archibeque, who was selected by students as the guest teacher speaker, looked ahead in his speech, telling students that time is the “most valuable gift of all” and to really evaluate the important parts of life. He drew from his own experience as a cancer survivor and peppered his speech with a few quotes from Michael Jordan and Mohammad Ali.
“What will truly define you as a person is not that you fall or you fail, but how you rise up,” Archibeque said. “That will define who you are.”
Aryelle Wright, this year’s salutatorian, used the opportunity to highlight the value of education and the responsibility that comes with knowledge. She advocated for higher teacher pay, lauding educators for their crucial role in raising critical thinkers, and spoke of the impending danger of climate change that her generation must address in coming years.
“We must do the right thing because it’s right, not because it’s merely expedient,” Wright said.
Valedictorian Noah Rainer congratulated her classmates on their hard work, and expressed appreciation that the class of 2019 would be dispersing in all different directions.
“As we conclude this phase of our lives, big things are sure to follow us as 2019 graduates,” Rainer said. “Our paths will diverge as we continue through our lives. Heroes, as said by T. Stark, are made by the paths they choose, not by the powers they are graced with.”
In her opening speech, Superintendent Haukeness looked to both past and future, encouraging students to take pride in their roots and value the importance of education, no matter what path they choose.
“Most of all, my wish is that you hold a sense of wonder and appreciation for life and those around you,” she said. “See the humor in life and laugh at your mistakes, as you will make many. Remember you are a Montezuma-Cortez High School graduate and you are entitled to the best that life has to offer so go forth and conquer the world.”