Graduate receives their diploma through the car window

Celebrating the Class of Covid-19: Driving to a Diploma

Posted on 06/01/2020

RRHS student receives diploma thru car windowThe term 20/20 has always been associated with eyesight and clarity of vision. So it seems appropriate that the Class of 2020 – born in the wake of 9/11 and graduating in the midst of a pandemic -- may be leaving high school with an insight beyond their years of how difficult the world can be, and how capably they can handle the challenges the world throws at them. 

The 1,149 proud Class of 2020 graduates from Rio Rancho’s four high schools have met some of the most rigorous academic standards in the state, ready to move on to the next level of success in college, a career, or in the armed forces.  But their passage from high school to the “real world” is unlike any other, a theme that resonated with student and staff leaders at all of the schools.  Visit each school under the tabs below to see and hear what they had to say!  Each school’s video includes the drive-through diploma pickup, the Field of Grads at the City Sports Complex, and the Commencement Cheer.

Cleveland High School

In a serious year with serious challenges, the graduation speeches at Cleveland (as at all four high schools) tended to be on the serious side.   But before getting serious, Cleveland principal Scott Affentranger noted the Class of 2020 had the longest spring break in American history, and had some fun with ten rules for coping with coronavirus.  (“Marry someone you like: you may be stuck with them in quarantine.”  “Buy a mask that highlights your best features.” “Look for the CDC guidelines on social distancing while dating.”) 

CHS student and family in car with diplomaAffentranger told the Class of 2020 that they join an elite group of Americans who for one reason or another did not have the opportunity to participate in a traditional graduation: veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  “I know you will all move forward in the way all these brave Americans did.  Covid-19 may have taken something from us, but it did not take our hearts and minds.  Do not live in fear.  Be brave, bold, and take the world by Storm.”

  • Robby Galang, Student Body President:  After thanking his family, friends, and teachers and acknowledging first responders, he turned to his fellow seniors. “We’re finally done! We get to move on in life and forge our future . . . We’ve all worked hard to get where we are now and where we’re going to go. . . My wish for you, Class of 2020, is to take on life as you have taken on the last two months, with resilience and perseverance.”
  • Class Vice President Leandra Garcia:  “Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t live with regret. Always be true to yourself . . . and enjoy the journey.”
  • Salutatorian Xavier Lujan Flores:  “It’s your time to shine. Enjoy life and be the best version of you you can be.”
  • Senior class assistant principal Rebecca Bruere referred to 9/11 and the pandemic, the world-changing events bookending these students’ lives, noting they’re “something we don’t want to remember, but never want to forget.  Even in your separation and social distancing it can bring you together, make you look at who our are, and instill you a sense of pride and conviction.” She went on to challenge the class:  “You can look back at this unexpected ending to your senior year with regret and disappointment. Or you can use it as a springboard that tosses you into the future filled with life-changing ideas you have discovered as a result of our unique circumstances and your willingness to turn a nightmare into an incredible dream.”
  • Valedictorian Jordyn Wemhoner used the words of Henry Ford as a starting point for her remarks to the class: “You think you can or think you can’t? You’re right.” She told her classmates, “There are thousands of things I am not, but together as a class, we are. We all have the ability to create our own idea of success, then go out and achieve it. Happiness comes from within and the belief of one’s self. I hope each and every one of you finds your own version of success, no matter what anyone else thinks.”

Cyber Academy

For students at the Rio Rancho Cyber Academy, the transition to academic life under coronavirus was a bit easier than for most students, since they already receive much of their schooling online at home.  They acknowledged the challenges this year has brought, but also focused squarely on the future:

  • Harpreet Bhullar, science teacher and Class of 2020 advisor:  “History has found you. We are in unpredictable times and this event has changed the globe, and it has found you. You have come a long way. No one, and nothing, can take this accomplishment away from you. You have not only achieved, but excelled in the face of uncertainty.”
  • Valedictorian Tacoma Horn:  “These amazing individuals [the Cyber Academy faculty] have prepared us for a messy and complicated world. They have worked tirelessly to give us the tools necessary to achieve our ambitions. Knowledge and the act of learning is the most powerful tool you possess and can bring you great success in life if wielded correctly.”
  • Salutatorian Ryan Roy: “Amid these trying times when the vast majority of students worldwide struggled to continue their learning . . . the Rio Rancho Cyber Academy can note that our students, among the Class of 2020, have completed their coursework and are ready to move on to the next stage of their learning. As we turn our sights towards college, we do so knowing there is a measurable value in applying ourselves and working towards our respective aims.”
  • Principal Julie Arnold:  “The Class of 2020 will stand out among all others in that they have faced many challenges, yet they will also stand out among all others with the sheer amount of success that their futures hold.”
  • Class president Christina Garcia:  “I have been at Cyber since the 6th grade, and I have observed many changes in myself, as well as others. Along with change will come fear, which always seems to accompany it. During this time it is easy to understand the feeling of fear and uncertainty about what might happen. Despite the fear, we are all still here, still together, and still standing. We are strong. Everyone has shown that we have the ability to keep moving forward and are strong enough to make a better future for ourselves.”

Independence High

Many students at Independence High School overcome extraordinary academic and personal challenges and obstacles to earn a diploma. Many students complete their coursework mid-semester, and each is celebrated by having a mini-diploma hung on the school's diploma tree, and with the ringing of a bell so that all students can applaud their achievement.  The bell and tree were both part of the drive-through event where students were handed their diplomas in a Covid-safe manner.  Independence students talked and wrote about the role Independence played in helping them reach this goal:

  • Ashley Cook, senior: “The teachers and staff that work at Independence, they are so driven to make sure every single student graduates no matter their situation. Their motivation is what gives other students the motivation to want to succeed.”
  • Paige Curley, senior, in the IHS yearbook: “The unique experience of Independence High School is embodied by hard work and dedication. The idea that a person can succeed not because they are forced to, but because they want to, provides a clear lens to the type of student body that can be found here. The students of Independence High School recognize the truth: that their goals, dreams, and objectives are within reach once they make the biggest long-term decision of their life: to graduate.” 
  •  Dr. Sue Carley, Independence principal, quoted Emile Zola: “If you asked me why I came into the world, I will tell you that I came to live out loud.”  She told the graduating class, “You can let the world push you around and determine your fate, or we can choose to carve our own path in this life.” 

The 67 Independence students who “walked” (or drove!) at the May commencement join more than 20 others who earned diplomas earlier in the year and were honored in December. 

Rio Rancho High

In their videotaped remarks to the Rio Rancho High Class of 2020, class leaders and administrators acknowledged both the rituals of senior life which were lost due to the coronavirus shutdown, and the life lessons learned by students born in the wake of 9/11 and coming of age in a challenged world.

  • Class President Claire Bader: “We, more than those who came before us, understand that life doesn’t always work in your favor. But this has worked in our favor. We have witnessed the reality of growing up in the harshest possible ways, more than any class before. I believe we are ready for the ups and downs of the rest of our lives.”
  • Salutatorian Nastassja Martin: "Living through a major historical event really sucks, but if there is one thing I learned in all my science classes, it is that diamonds only form under pressure. We are the unluckiest class, but because of this, we will be unified as the Class of 2020."
  • Principal Sherri Carver: “I consider each of you a champion and a graduate ready to change the communities we live in … you have shown your resilience, your grit, and your determination, and these are all practical skills and qualities that will take you far as you leave Rio Rancho High School.” She went on to advise, “Remain optimistic.We all talk to ourselves more than anyone else, so make your inner voice a positive one.”
  • Valedictorian Kang Phan: “Having the sense of community is important for all of us to get further in our lives, both our community at Rio Rancho High and the communities we will be part of later on. It helps inspire and shape you for who you are.”  Phan gave part of his speech in Vietnamese, one of the most prevalent home languages among Rio Rancho families.  
  • Senior Class Assistant Principal Marsha Hubble-Espinosa: “As you move forward in life, remember how you reached out. Remember there are people in your lives who are willing to encourage and support you. We hold you in your hearts. Your faces are forever etched in our memory. Now more than ever, we ask that you be resilient. We believe in your future, and we honor the endless possibilities for you.”