San Juan College High School celebrates 'monumental' first in-person commencement

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The graduates of San Juan College High School were eager to have an in-person ceremony to celebrate commencement after spending the school year in virtual learning.

San Juan College High School hosted its first-ever in-person commencement ceremony on the evening of May 14 in the San Juan College Learning Commons Plaza, where previous college graduations were held.

The early college high school has students enrolled from Aztec, Bloomfield, Central Consolidated and Farmington school districts that earn a high school diploma and an associate degree within a four-year period.

This is the second cohort of students to graduate since the school was opened during the 2016-2017 school year.

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San Juan College High School graduates Carissa Arpelar, left, and Kimberly Jaquez, right, stand in the Student Study Lounge and look at the crowd for the May 14 commencement ceremony.

Graduates from the inaugural graduation class in 2020 took part in a virtual ceremony and received their diplomas through a drive-thru ceremony held on the college campus.

Principal Seth Martinez told The Daily Times hosting the first-ever in-person ceremony for graduating students feels like a big deal.

“It feels very monumental,” Martinez said. “It’s a huge deal for our school, for our community and for our students.”

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Guests in attendance adhered to the COVID-19 safe practices the New Mexico Public Education Department enacted earlier this year, including social distancing and required use of masks.

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett was the guest speaker.

San Juan College High School Principal Seth Martinez speaks to the crowd during the May 14 commencement ceremony.

San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass, Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt and Aztec Superintendent Kirk Carpenter also spoke during the ceremony.

There are a couple of deviations in the early college high school graduation from the typical high school graduation ceremony.

All graduates will have the opportunity to participate in the San Juan College and early college high school ceremonies, allowing them to be recognized for the diplomas and college degrees.

The 2021 San Juan College commencement ceremony was a virtual event for the second year in a row, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The school does not have a valedictorian or a salutatorian or honor graduates.

Martinez said it would have been difficult to tabulate a valedictorian or salutatorian due to inconsistencies involving GPA between their high school work and college work.

San Juan College High School graduate Cameron Collyer adjusts his hat in the Student Study Lounge before the May 14 commencement ceremony.

School officials have developed a new tradition which they dubbed the Griffin Scholar.

It is a graduate staff voted on and who best embodies the spirit of the early college high school, Martinez said.

The first-ever Griffin Scholar was Robyn Curtis of Shiprock, and she was the student speaker for the graduation.

“At first, I was surprised to learn I was the Griffin Scholar,” Curtis said before the ceremony. “But ever since then, I’ve been excited and sort of nervous.”

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She said she was thankful for her time at San Juan College High School, stating she has really grown over the last four years.

“I used to be this shy girl in the corner but now I'm speaking in front of everyone today. I say that's a lot of progress,” Curtis said.

Curtis will pursue a Dental Hygiene degree at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

San Juan College High School teacher Shelly McDaniel, right, guides graduates during the processional for the May 14 commencement ceremony.

Graduates Hannah Duckett and Cameron Collyer of Farmington both said it was a shock going from nearly an entire school year of remote learning to having an in-person ceremony.

Hannah, Mayor Duckett’s daughter, said it felt like the ceremony suddenly popped out of the blue.

She also didn’t have any issues with the COVID-19 precautions enacted for the ceremony.

“I get to be in-person with my classmates, that’s the big part for me,” Hannah Duckett said.

Hannah added that it felt “super cool” for this graduating class to be remembered as the first in-person ceremony for the early college high school.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at

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