Cody Cragun is the salutatorian of the Rio Rancho High School Class of 2022.

Cody Cragun
Courtesy photo

She discusses her motivations and plans here.

What’s next for you?

After high school, I plan on attending Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City on a 4-year Army ROTC scholarship where I plan on double majoring in Creative Writing and a field such as Communications or Anthropology.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years, after I’ve graduated from college and finished my military service, I will either be traveling around North and South America with the money I saved in the military (I have a very ambitious and unrealistic dream of driving from Alaska to Argentina over about 2 years) or attending graduate school on my GI Bill.

What has remained the best incentive/program to keep you interested in school and graduating?

I would not have made it to where I am today without my high school’s JROTC program. The instructors genuinely care about the success of each and every one of their students, and their commitment to us, along with my drive to not disappoint them, have always kept me motivated to keep my grades up. Even on days when the last thing I wanted to do was go to school, I always went because I knew no matter what, at least I could look forward to practicing with my Drill Team or listening to our instructors’ jokes and stories during class. Without the sense of community that the JROTC program provided me, I doubt I would have had the same drive to maintain my GPA throughout high school.

In what class did you learn the most, as you envision your career?

Out of all the classes I’ve taken in high school, one of my favorites and most insightful was AP World History. As an aspiring writer, it was the first class that I’d taken that really focused on refining and improving my writing. It was so fulfilling to see my essay grades raise throughout the year from Cs to As as I learned and improved. On top of that, I absolutely loved the material, and the fact that I got to learn about multiple countries and how they were connected throughout history absolutely encouraged my desire to see other places. I was especially inspired to hear about works of literature that genuinely impacted history, like The Travels of Marco Polo or The Heart of Darkness, because I hadn’t realized that literature could have real-life effects until this class.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?

The best piece of advice I’ve heard was given to me after our JROTC program unexpectedly took first overall at a competition towards the beginning of the school year. This year was such a reset for our program, and so taking first for the first time in this competition was a massive shock, especially with all the talent we’ve had in the past. As I was telling one of our instructors, Master Sergeant Cruz, that I couldn’t believe that this is the year that we took first out of everyone that had competed and graduated before me, he told me that I needed to stop idolizing the leaders of the past and instead, I needed to start making my own legacy. I’d never noticed that I often propped up the accomplishments and talents of my peers far above mine, but this made me realize that I actually had the ability to make a difference and a name for myself in all aspects of my life.

What’s your best advice for underclassmen?

I would tell underclassmen to enjoy their time in high school. Rather than trying to cram their schedule full of AP classes that they hate and extracurriculars that they don’t enjoy just to impress colleges, I wish I could let them know that in the end, it’s not worth it. I, and so many of my peers, have missed out on so much of the classic high school experience just to spend $1,000 on college applications and get rejected from most of the schools we applied to, and in the case that we did get in, most of us couldn’t afford it so it didn’t matter anyway. High school should be a time where you’re trying new things and making friends, so I would encourage underclassmen to take the classes they want to take, participate in the activities they actually enjoy, and make sure to always schedule time to hang out with friends or go to a football game here and there. Have some fun!

If you could make one change in Rio Rancho Public Schools, what would it be?

While this may be difficult to oversee, I wish that Rio Rancho Public Schools put more effort into helping students with the college admissions process, especially first-generation college students. As a first-gen student, I had absolutely no idea how college applications or financial aid worked. I was completely confused and overwhelmed. I had no idea when I should start the process or even how to start it. While I’m sure teachers and counselors would be willing to assist students, many students don’t feel comfortable going to any of these people first. I believe that some kind of timeline presented by counselors along with a guide on how to get started or a checklist as to what needs to be done and when could be helpful. Checking in with first-gen students that indicate an interest in college at multiple points during the fall semester could be a great help as well.

Who or what played the biggest role in your success?

While this might be a little repetitive, my JROTC program honestly is the biggest part of my success in high school (that and my drive to get out of New Mexico). Before I joined the program, I never felt like anyone really cared about how I was doing or what I wanted to do with my life, but every day since I was a Freshman, our instructors encouraged us to plan for our lives and pursue our passions. The program felt like one big family, and I never ever wanted to disappoint anyone in it. For a lot of high school, it was the only reason I got up in the mornings. There were so many days where I would have skipped school this year if I knew that I didn’t have to go to Zero Hour to practice with my Drill Team, and without the support of the entire program, I absolutely would not be here where I am today. The program taught me confidence, responsibility, leadership, time management, and so many more life skills that have served me throughout high school and will continue serving me after I graduate.