The sky was as sunny as the outlook for hundreds of Flagstaff youth Friday when the city's two largest high schools graduated hundreds of students.
With the Skydome at Northern Arizona University closed for renovations, the two schools, which have traditionally held their commencement ceremonies inside the arena, both enjoyed an outdoors graduation at Coconino High School's Cromer Field.
The spirit was as high as any graduation under a roof. There was room to roam around the field's end zones and a more intimate introduction, as graduates marched past the packed bleachers and then down the turf aisles flanked by rows of folding chairs filled with cheering family and friends.
This year, there was "The Merge," and to this senior class, it was especially important.
Coconino took in the majority of students displaced when Sinagua High closed this summer. Most speeches addressed what the speakers called "The Merge." "Sinagua seniors" wore the same black caps and gowns as their classmates who had spent more time at Coconino, although many wore blue tassels as a nod to their Mustang roots.
Students Juan Lopez and Shakina Washington presented the senior gift, the class banner (a Sinagua tradition) and the class colors -- red, blue and purple.
"Red represents Coconino, blue represents Sinagua and purple is what you get when you mix the two together," Shakina said.
Senior class dedicatee Jon Edwards, a government and economics teacher, said that in his classes, he can find it hard to defend the divisiveness and pettiness found in partisan American politics. Politicians, he said, could learn something from this year's students.
He said he saw them handle the Sinagua-Coconino transition with maturity and graciousness, and watched them go from distant to friends.
"I think I even saw romance between former rivals," he said. "Love conquers all."
There wasn't a single visible cloud for the morning ceremony that celebrated about 300 graduates. The only speck in the sky, aside from the birds, was a bundle of red, black and white balloons, freed and carried away by a light breeze.
FHS: Tassel was worth the hassle
At Flagstaff High School, construction has been nearly constant: new locker rooms, the renovated gym, a bright and shiny lunchroom and an entirely new wing, among other projects. The Class of 2011 knew the sound of drills, the sight of chain link fence and the paths of detours.
Student body co-president Rachel Brownfield swapped out her mortarboard for a hard hat while speaking about the literal and figurative aspects of building.
"Use your construction skills to put a nail into your wall of life," she told her classmates.
More than 370 students wore the green and white garb of FHS in the golden light of the afternoon ceremony. Principal Tony Cullen proudly told the audience that these students totaled for a record-breaking $7.2 million in scholarships and 54 tuition waivers at the state universities for their high scores on standardized tests, among other top-shelf scholarships and honors.
Senior class dedicatee Soloman Duran, a math teacher, told the story of his mother, who graduated from high school at age 25 after having two children as a teenager. High school graduation is a special thing. He learned that at age 7, watching his mom reach her goal.
You are the authors of your own lives, he told his students.
"Be the main character of a great adventure," he said.
Hillary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2261.