The largest high school Class in the state needed 52 minutes for all 550 Rio Rancho High School seniors to grab their diplomas Tuesday morning at the Rio Rancho Events Center.
“This has been an amazing class of kids,” said Principal Ryan Kettler. “They’ve taken care of business. Our senior class officers always wanted to take a selfie with me, whenever they saw me.”
And no senior prank, either?
“Everybody likes me, I guess,” Kettler noted, looking forward to some vacation time in Angel Fire.
From Rafael Acosta to Vicente Zuniga, not to mention eight with the surname Martinez and six each of Griego and Sanchez, they were sent on their way, along with some reflection and advice.
Student Body President Tussanawaluck Aleena Sommala – yes, that’s the longest name for a grad this year — summed up the past four years like this: “We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. And we’ve grown up together,” she said. “This was the experience of a lifetime and I would not change it for the world.”
“What a long four years it’s been,” Senior Class President Emma Garcia said. “I am so excited to see what the future holds for us.”
Regarding that, “I hope you will be open to new possibilities,” suggested Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland, who also related the long-ago business start-up in Albuquerque by two young men, Bill Gates and Pail Allen, which became Microsoft.
“Embrace your potential,” said Cleveland, the district’s only superintendent since its inception in 1994, who has seen all 10,000 or so graduates since the inaugural Class of 1999 had commencement ceremonies at Johnson Gym on the campus of the University of New Mexico.
Salutatorian Kiian Huenemann urged his fellow grads to not be afraid of failure: “Why are you afraid of failure? Failure is your friend.”
Valedictorian Jonathan Shin told his classmates he’d rather have a million friends than a million dollars, so he “could enjoy life more.”
Teacher and assistant girls basketball coach Jack Cadman, in his commencement address, borrowed three ideas from the school’s athletic director, Sal Gonzales — urging grads to take a 30-minute “walk of gratitude” daily; “WIN,” realize What’s Important Now; and to find something in life that you love to do.
“When did we get so old?” asked Cadman, recalling times when his own kids were young and more concerned with the “Wiggles” than life itself. “Time flies; I wish I could find a way to slow it down sometimes.”
He’s got a daughter who’ll graduate next May, when he’ll join the parents in the stands.
“You’ve done an amazing job with your students,” Cadman said, urging the seated seniors to stand and applaud their parents. They did.
School board President Amanda Galbraith, a member of the RRHS Class of 2000, urged the grads not to get bogged down when they run into life’s problems ahead.
“Don’t get stuck in your problems,” she said, proud that her daughter, Elena, was among the 550 seniors.
After Zuniga had his diploma and had posed for a phot, the seniors switched their tassels from one side to the other, then popped their confetti makers, showering the Events Center floor and themselves with blue and green confetti, and started to exit the arena.
Another chapter in their young lives was about to begin.