The 2018 graduating classes from each of the region’s public high schools marched onto fields last week amidst screaming parents, metallic balloons—and giant replicas of their own faces—to mark the end of a major chapter in their young lives.

Fidgeting in their plastic seats and nervously playing with tassels, each listened to classmates and school administrators deliver rousing speeches meant to both inspire future achievements and capture the bittersweet finale that comes with finally being handed a high school diploma.

That emotion, both happiness and sorrow, found its way onto the stage—no matter the school.

Mountain View High School student body president Dayna Davis opened last Wednesday evening’s graduation event after an introduction from Principal Todd Garelick. Davis was visibly stirred with emotion as she thanked her parents and teachers. This caused many of the graduating class, and no doubt the audience, to grow teary-eyed as well.

The second speaker of the night was salutatorian Erin Caroline Allen, a transfer student who talked about how when she first moved to Tucson, she rejected the city and kept a low profile. But after a while she warmed up and got to know the people and place, even embracing the local food staples. As proof of this, in a supremely talk-showesque fashion, Allen asked the graduating class to please look under their seats. The entire Mountain View Class of 2018 found coupons and gift cards to eegee’s hidden under them.

Before the actual graduation ceremony, the final speaker was valedictorian Sara Grace Te, who first off apologized for not distributing free eegees.

“As many of you might know, I’m not very creative,” Te said. “English isn’t my strong suit.”

So instead of delivering a speech of her own, Te read a from the Dr. Seuss classic, Oh, the Places You’ll Go: 

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the guy (or gal, Te added) who’ll decide where to go.”

Others took their time on the stage to share more personal thoughts, like Marana High School senior McKenna Leavens. 

Speaking before a sea of blue last Thursday night at MHS, Leavens admitted she never understood why teachers and staff told her that her graduating class was “different” until she stayed up late one night to write her speech.

The difference she found? Passion.

“Not just passion for school or passion for getting an A in what seemed to be the most impossible class ever, but passion for life, for love, for friends and for family,” she said.

That passion played out in many ways across the high school, Leavens said: The National Honor Society volunteering for hundreds of hours, the welding club creating public art and the 17-minute walkout to remember the lives lost in Parkland, Florida, to name a few.

“Some may believe that a passion from a group of teenagers is rare, but they could not be more wrong,” Leavens said. 

Ironwood Ridge High School Principal Natalie Burnett saw that same passion in her Nighthawks over the past year—a year which saw both a student walkout over school shootings and the Red for Ed teacher walkout.

Last Tuesday, Burnett said that the 2018 graduating Nighthawks are a group of talented young minds that grew very close over the high school experience and displayed a level of maturity in a year full of surprises.

“I would say that the Parkland, Florida shooting was really kind of a defining moment in the whole issue of a walkout,” Burnett said. “That was the first time in my 28 years of working in high schools that there has been a student walkout, or even discussion of one… [The students] were very thoughtful and very respectful, and no matter what decision people made, they were leaders in being respectful and thoughtful and calm. It was really positive.”

Addressing hundreds of proud Dorados eagerly anticipating their departure from Canyon del Oro High School last Wednesday afternoon, Amphi Public Schools superintendent Todd Jaeger spoke of the future. Closing out his first year at the head of the district, Jaeger said an initial Google search resulted in a collection of speeches advising graduates to not pursue their dreams and be more practical.

Jaeger disagrees.

“I can imagine no greater success one can find than realizing one’s dreams through the merit of one’s efforts,” he said. “While I’m all for practicality, the idea that success can be measured in terms of how much money you make is largely missing the point of life.”

Jaeger urged the Dorados to make those dreams a reality, to bear hardships and find the positive in everything they encounter.

“You will now have many choices in your lives ahead, perhaps more choices than any generation before you,” he said.

Contributions to this story were made by Jeff Gardner and Logan Burtch-Buus. See more photos on page 9.

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