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Graduates grapple with excitement, relief

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AZTEC — The public education of Aztec High School's 2018 graduates came full circle before their graduation ceremony on Friday at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium.

Principal Warman Hall shouted over the excited chatter in the gym of C.V. Koogler Middle School, where graduates prepared for the processional before the ceremony.

“OK, this is just like we did it in kindergarten. We’re going to play follow the leader," Hall said to a round of laughter. “You guys remember your line leaders from (rehearsal) this morning? In other words, the person who was in front of you and who you were walking with?”

Graduates said they felt a mix of excitement, nervousness and relief at the end of their high school career before the ceremony.

“High school has always been really hard for me, so I’m really proud of myself for actually doing it,” said Hannah Pearson, who will study to be a veterinarian technician at San Juan College, before the processional.

Triston Peay, who plans to attend Colorado State University, said he felt “like we achieved so much and that we’re finally here.

“It’s like one more step into reality,” Peay said.

The first step toward a new reality was met with the processional by the school band led by Rian Chiaravalloti and the national anthem performed by the school's chamber choir led by Katrina Patton.

Byrn Divine gave an invocation or opening prayer, saying the graduates were “blessed to have come this far” and prayed to be “filled with a spirit of accomplishment and eagerness as we journey on to independence.”

Student body president Rileigh Nyce and senior class president Alex Stalcup welcomed guests before senior class representative Arian Potter introduced platform guests.

Nyce and senior class representative Orlando Valenzuela expressed the graduates’ appreciation for parents and the school staff, and Riley Howlett performed a “graduation mashup” song before senior class secretary Mercedes Turner introduced and recognized Daniel Bergasa, a foreign exchange student from Madrid.

Senior class officers led a memorial for students who died before graduation, including Casey Marquez, a senior class representative who died in the Dec. 7 shooting at the high school. Students Skylar Becente, Blake Stewart and Austin Weaver were also recognized. Howlett and Skyler Hooser performed Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on the Mountain” in the four students’ honor.

Hall said the ceremony was planned to include a memorial, as all graduations do, and was meant to honor those who were lost while focusing on celebrating the day’s graduates.

“We’re going to recognize and honor the students that we’ve lost, and we do that every year,” Hall said before the ceremony. “… Because these kids are celebrating their graduation, we want it to be a graduation. We want to recognize them, but we’re not upending the way we do graduation.”

Valedictorian Brandon McReynolds, introduced by librarian Holly Hook, and salutatorian Kimberley Kelso, introduced by Elizabeth Kaul, addressed the crowd before school administrators presented the class and the Aztec Municipal School Board presented graduates with their diplomas.

Student body vice president Joshua Carrillo and student body historian Bianca Martinez gave the farewell address before Daniel Cervantes gave the benediction and Tyler Shahan and senior class officers led the graduates in the ring and tassel ceremony.

For graduate Railey Moore, despite the freedom and relief of finishing high school, the reality of the accomplishment was starting to set in even before the ceremony began.

“It’s crazy that we’ve been in high school, and now it’s time for us to grow up and take care of ourselves,” Moore said.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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