With applause, cheers, whistles and tears paving the way, 29 students from Southwest Open School marched through the Montezuma County Annex Thursday night and into their future as the school hosted graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2012.
The mood was celebratory and focused on the graduates, each dressed in the colored robe of their choice. More than 400 family, friends and community members gathered at the annex to recognize the members of the graduating class, many of whom found their way to alternative high school after struggling to succeed in other schools.
“We are so glad each of you came to SWOS,” said school Director Judy Hite. “Thank you for trusting us enough to get your high school education at SWOS. We feel honored that you trusted us and you started to believe in yourselves and education.”
The ceremony opened with a Cecil Beaton quote read by graduate Trevor Ince. The quote summed up individuality of the students in the rainbowed caps and gowns, the subjects of the celebration.
“Be daring, be different, be impractical,” Ince read. “Be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
The graduates had many roles in the ceremony, a nod to SWOS’ model of hands-on, experiential education. Each graduate who took the microphone spoke of his or her own struggles in the journey toward earning their diploma and importance of support and learning for a lifetime.
Graduate Lorenzo Montoya shared the SWOS mission statement with the audience, and explained why the school’s emphasis on life-long learners is significant.
“I didn’t know about the mission statement until yesterday,” Montoya said, to the laughs of the audience. “But as I read this, I realized that throughout all my years here I’ve encompassed this into my character. You don’t realize it until the end of your journey here, but that lesson never really ends, it continues on in life.”
Building on the message of education for a lifetime, graduate Crystal Merrick Laner shared a speech entitled “Growing Up,” which extolled the support of parents and community and the importance of struggle in growth.
“Growing up doesn’t happen overnight; the road to adulthood is full of mountains you have to overcome,” Laner said. “My road to adulthood started when I found out my dad was sick with cancer and I could possibly lose him. It made me realize he may be my superman but he wasn’t immortal. Both of my parents wouldn’t be around forever to help me, I knew I had to make my own mistakes and learn from them. ... My road is far from being clear of mountains, but I know I’m strong enough to get over them, because I want to.”
The keynote address of the evening was given by Hite, who is retiring after 10 years as director of the school. She reminded the students of the six Ps of SWOS: positive, produce, polite, participate, prompt and prepared. Along with their diplomas, Hite gave the students cards with the six words and the SWOS mission statement and encouraged them to pass them on when they are interviewing for jobs, applying for loans or in any way in which they put themselves forward in the future
“You can hand people these cards and say, ‘This is who I am. This is my code of conduct,’” Hite said.
Hite’s final words to the students were simple.
“I want to leave you with three words,” Hite said. “Go. Do. Be. Go and follow your dreams. I know you all want to change the world. Do what you are passionate about and it will never seem like work. Become the kind of person you have always wanted yourself to be.”
The ceremony gave opportunity for the students’ advisors to offer seniors affirmations, extolling the virtues of each graduate and highlighting the best each brought to the school. The audience was also encouraged to step to the microphone and address the graduating class.
With every affirmation and every congratulation, the pride was evident on the faces of the students in the mortarboards. The importance of the night was clear: whatever else the graduates encounter in life they have each overcome this particular mountain, and with diploma in hand they can move forward.
The 2012 graduates of Southwest Open School are: Lacy Bain, Calvin Begaye, Lynnee Benally, Ronnie Benally, Vince Benally, Earl Burch, Carla Cuthair, Samantha Dale, Seth Escoe, Sequana Francis, Catherine Hatter, Trevor Ince, Spencer Jones, Isaac Kimbro, Crystal Merrick Laner, Alicia Lauriski, Austin Lewis, Alec Luna, Michael Lyons, Emily Mitchell, Lorenzo Montoya, Michael Morehead, Terece Newman, Dilton Padilla, Francisca Paredes, Brooke Rule, Monique Smith, Latoya Tom, Erin Vigil and Milton Yazzie Jr. (One graduate did not attend the ceremony).
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]