In a ceremony that celebrated diversity and highlighted students’ life paths, 20 students at Southwest Open School received diplomas Wednesday evening.
The commencement ceremony was held outdoors at the campus on the east side of Cortez against a backdrop of a setting sun and attended by over 100 family members and friends.
“You all will find some successes in life, of that I have no doubt,” said Matt Keefauver, director at the alternative high school. “Just remember to keep moving forward and stay the path and keep learning from your experiences both good and bad.”
The ceremony kicked off with a drumming performance by Mark Wing and the Red Sky Group. After this, Keefauver, who served as emcee for the night, read aloud quotes stressing the value of failure as a tool for learning and growth.
“Remember to welcome failure, embrace failure, sit with failure and then show failure the door,” he said. “And on the way out, be sure to thank failure for reminding you that you are a human being and for the lessons that failure has shared.”
The ceremony was all-encompassing, with staff, students and even families and friends taking the mic throughout.
Former SWOS teacher Aubrie Cook-Carnahan was the guest speaker. Cook-Carnahan recently graduated from a teaching program at Harvard, and she thanked the students for preparing her well for the experience. She spoke to each student’s individual strengths and urged the class to continue to be reflective and create their own definitions of success.
“Each one of you has a story, as does every other person on this planet,” Cook-Carnahan said. “Do not be so quick to judge. Each person has something to teach us. And I challenge you to seek out people who are different than you, who challenge you to think in new ways and who help you to grow.”
Melissa Watters, services coordinator for exceptional students, spoke of the internships and concurrent enrollment programs the SWOS graduates have taken part in, along with sharing their plans. Students’ paths lead in multiple directions, from further education to the military.
Staff leaders from the different SWOS “communities” presented their students with personalized gifts, including a Barbie doll, sumo wrestling outfit, sunscreen, a honey badger coloring book, Lucky Charms cereal bags and plenty more quirky, targeted items.
Families and friends of the graduates also were given an opportunity to speak to their students near the end of the ceremony. Many of their messages were emotional as parents and loved ones spoke of the twists and turns life had thrown at their students, and shared pride that their graduate had nevertheless persevered through.
Daveed Eastin’s mother went the musical route, serenading her son with a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”
The three student speakers looked ahead to the uncertainties of the future and highlighted the gifts and traits they each possess that will help them in the future.
“Give it your all, dare to be all you can be,” said Azya Fuller.
Bridgett Damron delivered a special senior message to her classmates.
“Thank you all for helping me find me,” Damron said. “I am grateful I get to end this chapter of my life with all of you, but it’s not the end of the book. We have much more to explore and learn, and I hope one day in our future, we will gather once more to share new experiences.”
Matthew Mitchell closed out the night with a quote from author Neil Gaiman.
“Now go and make interesting mistakes,” Mitchell read. “Make amazing mistakes. Make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”