The 540th and final graduate to get a diploma, Mikaela D. Ziegler, grabs her mortarboard to keep it from flying away. Gary Herron photo.

There was a storm brewing to the east but, fortunately it decided to hold off for the Storm seniors graduating Monday at Lightning Bolt Stadium at Cleveland High School.
There wasn’t a high school orchestra to perform “Pomp and Circumstance” for the school’s 11th graduating class, but the music flowed through giant speakers at the south end of the football field as the 540 seniors walked to their socially distanced chairs to hear a handful of speeches before being handed their diplomas, a bottle of water and then getting their photos taken.
Following the Army JROTC presentation of colors and national anthem, tireless Activities Director Stacy Salinas welcomed all, lamenting the lack of proms and senior sunsets the past two school years, and turned the microphone over to the Class of 2021’s salutatorian, Melanie Otero.
A self-professed introvert, Otero said the past two years have been “nothing like we had expected,” but the graduating class had survived and thrived, and predicting “so many more opportunities and experiences to look forward to.”
Popular math teacher Daniel Woodrow provided the commencement address, urging grads to “make a plan — have an outline for what you want to do in life,” but be sure to make it in pencil.
“Find people to look up to,” he suggested, which he said he did, finding mentors among the CHS faculty as his teaching days there began.
“If things don’t go your way, you have to persevere,” Woodrow said. “I challenge you to keep getting better.”
Valedictorian Adam Rounsville was next, recalling the lives of friends and teachers that were lost, and that, “Life has a tendency to knock you down.”
To the faculty, Rounsville said, “Our success is your success,” and to his classmates, he told them, “Let us never forget our experiences here at Cleveland High School.”
Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland told the graduates they had “expanded your knowledge and skills” and “the good and the bad will be remembered forever.
“Graduates, you made it to the finish line,” Cleveland said, and, looking ahead, “I hope you have goals.”
Saying she was honored to be in attendance, RRPS board President Amanda Galbraith, perhaps recalling her graduation from Rio Rancho High School 21 years earlier, asked the grads to stand and applaud former teachers as well as family members and other supporters through the years in the stands.
“They will always have your back,” she said. “I implore you to grow and take risks.”
Then came the diplomas: It took 51 minutes to hand those out as the seniors walked on stage, following Rounsville, Otero and class officers, from Annalysia Nevaeh Acosta to — including a baker’s dozen Martinezes — Mikaela D. Ziegler.

Editor’s note: For more photos from the CHS commencement, pick up a copy of the May 23 Observer. For lists of graduates, thoughts from valedictorians and salutatorians, and more graduation-related content, stop by our office, 409 NM 528, Ste. 101, for a copy of our graduation special section.