Fifty-one graduates from The ASK Academy were celebrated Friday morning during a ceremony at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

The ASK Academy’s Governing Council, Executive Council, faculty and staff joined dozens of friends and family in wishing the graduates a fond farewell.

CEO Edward Garcia kicked off the commencement program with an introduction of the Class of 2023. Graduating student Parker Jones-Wirth then belted out a stirring rendition of the national anthem.

Garcia again took the stage to welcome everyone to the event and share some words with the graduates.

“It has been said that it is never an end, but it’s always a new beginning,” Garcia said. “Today’s ceremony will symbolize the end of high school, the end of your mandated education and being told what to do, what to wear, where to go. But it’s also the beginning of something new and exciting.”

Principal Nadyne Shimada and Denise Gonzales, Governing Council chair, then spoke before Director of Special Services Jessica Del Curto gave a humorous and emotional commencement address.

Salutatorian Kailey McCann gave a speech followed by words from Valedictorian Emma Clayton.

Clayton was recently named one of two U.S. Presidential Scholars in New Mexico and one of 161 nationally. Clayton spoke about how the small size of the graduating class allowed the seniors to truly connect and forge friendships that will hopefully last forever.

“We have laughed and cringed together during the movie nights, karaoke nights and birthday parties,” Clayton said. “But beyond the fun and games, I have seen us mature, take on responsibilities and build meaningful relationships. I truly love our class.

“I offer my heartfelt congratulations to the incredible Class of 2023. As we embark on a journey, I urge you to make your mark on the world; make this world a better place, one act of kindness at a time.”

The seniors then joyously walked one by one across the stage to receive their diplomas, a symbol of the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in their lives.

After each graduate received their diploma, they all stood, switched the tassels from one side to the other and tossed their hats high in the air to celebrate an academic achievement that was well earned.