It was a week of celebrations in Flagstaff.
Hundreds of local students received their diplomas this week during separate graduation ceremonies for Ponderosa High School, Northland Preparatory Academy, Summit High School, Coconino High School and Flagstaff High School.
Amid the cheering, hugging and wild applause from proud family members, some of the graduates took time to reflect on their time in high school. CHS Senior Class President Madison Miller reminisced about how her senior class grew closer over the years Friday.
“We laughed together; we cried together; we watched the sunrise together; we even turned the school upside down together,” Miller said. “Today, we will sit together as one.”
Other new graduates thought about how high school shaped them.
“I’ve had some great friendships and amazing teachers that I’ve learned so much from, who have taught me how to learn,” said NPA graduate Isabella Berglund-Brown. “They’ll forever influence me.”
Summit High graduate Tristen David, who plans on joining the military, talked about the importance of having useful tools and strong values.
“I learned if you want to better your life, then you have to work hard,” he said.
Faculty acknowledged the students’ accomplishments at each ceremony.
“Your ability to graduate from high school is a very special thing,” said physical education instructor Jon Harmon at Summit High’s graduation Thursday. “You set yourself apart from many people that did not and will not accomplish what you have done.”
Many of the students at Summit High and Ponderosa High have had to overcome challenges most high schoolers would never dream of to get their diplomas.
Summit graduate Maria Leal broke down in tears as she talked about how she developed a substance abuse problem and dropped out of high school after her parents had to return to Mexico, leaving her in Flagstaff when she was a freshman. But when she learned she was going to be a mother two years later, Leal went back to school, taking classes online and in person while holding down a job so she could graduate this year. She is on track to become a certified nursing assistant this summer and will attend Coconino Community College in the fall.
“All my hard work paid off because I am here today,” Leal said. “This is not the end. It may be the end of high school, but it is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.”
New CHS alumnus Austin Horn, a top cross country runner, had some encouraging words for his fellow graduates as they prepare to head out into the world.
“Remember that although obstacles are always in our path, we can overcome them by putting one foot in front of the other and keeping our focus on the finish line,” he said.
There were light moments this week, as well.
CHS Principal Stacie Zanzucchi got a laugh when every one of the nearly 300 graduates handed her a zucchini as she distributed diplomas. Later that day, all the FHS graduates booed jokingly after Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board President Christine Fredericks accidentally introduced them as the Coconino High School Class of 2015.
Some of the new graduates plan to stick around the Flagstaff area to work or take classes at CCC or Northern Arizona University. Others plan to go a little farther from home.
NPA graduate Jillian Wagner plans to attend Fort Lewis College in Colorado to study psychology with an emphasis on nature therapy.
“I really love nature,” Wagner said. “It’s a big passion of mine. I love traveling. I love hiking. I want to channel that in a way that I can help people get through their problems.”
Her friend and fellow NPA grad Reilly Cashmore, who plans to study chemical engineering at New York University and pursue musical theater, said no matter how far she travels, she will never truly leave Flagstaff behind.
“Flagstaff has been one of the best places to grow up in,” she said. “It’s not too big, not too small. You get to appreciate nature and environmentalism is a huge part of everyone’s lives here. That is going to stick with me when I go to New York.”
Basis Flagstaff’s seniors will graduate today at 12:30 p.m. in NAU’s Ashurst Auditorium. Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy will hold this year’s final local graduation June 5 at 4:30 p.m. at the CCC Lone Tree Campus.
“Congratulations, class of 2015,” Miller said. “We did it!”
Editor's note: This report has been corrected from its original version to reflect that Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board President Christine Fredericks accidentally introduced the Flagstaff High School graduates as the Coconino High School Class of 2015.