A cool sheet of rain didn’t stop hundreds of students from walking across the Rio Rico High School football field to receive their diplomas Thursday evening.
The graduating Class of 2023 held a total of 319 students, each en route to their own endeavor.
But in the final moments of their high school careers, the students didn’t shy away from the memories – both good and bad.
“Senior year was a roller coaster ride for me,” admitted Ilian Islava, class valedictorian, as she addressed her peers Thursday.
“Calculus,” she grinned. “Sorry, Mr. Kumar, but also, thank you, because it was a ride and I learned a lot from it.”
Students who spoke Thursday night addressed a number of challenges they overcame in high school – from mental health struggles and rigorous curricula, to the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit during their sophomore year.
They also reminisced over the joys: learning to drive, joining the photography club, attending tea parties in English class and rooting for the Hawks.
“It goes so much deeper than just seeing our name printed on a paper,” said salutatorian Kazandra Navarro. “Each one of our experiences is held by that diploma as we remember the memories we made, the relationships we built, the struggles we faced, the failures we learned from and the battles we won.”
Meanwhile, family members and friends – hundreds, at least – cheered and stomped their support from the bleachers, waving clusters of silver balloons and blown-up portraits of the soon-to-be-grads.
As the academic year drew to a close, the class garnered millions of dollars in scholarships; some students enrolled in universities, while others committed to the military and made significant strides in pursuing certification pathways, according to Principal Hector Estrada.
Estrada drew on the students’ accomplishments: progressing in esports, starting a slam poetry club, and earning statewide recognition for the school’s student council.
“You’re the epitome of excellence right now as you sit here getting ready to graduate,” he told the class. “You made it.”