Thirty members of Mancos High School’s graduating class handed sunflowers to family, friends and other important people in their lives as a thank-you during their commencement ceremony on Sunday.
The flowers were received with tearful hugs and happy smiles as graduates walked through the auditorium thanking the influential people in their lives.
At the start of the commencement ceremony, Principal Ed Whritner congratulated the graduates, saying he knew they would have a lasting impact on the world in whatever field they chose.
He told them that their graduation wasn’t the beginning of a new chapter in their story, but rather starting the beautiful and impactful book of their lives. Before their graduation day, he said they were more of a co-author of their story, but now “you become the sole author of your story,” he said.
He said when looking at the graduates, he saw thinkers, authors, athletes and more.
“I see strong people with warm hearts and great minds,” he said.
As they spread their wings and head out into the world for the first time, he encouraged them to “keep striving toward a bright future with hope” and to find their purpose.
“Keep crafting a story only you were born to write,” he said.
Dean of students, health teacher, PE teacher, middle school track coach and high school football coach Josh Gardner was chosen by the students to be the commencement speaker and gave a speech that made the seniors and those in attendance laugh and tear up.
Gardner started by joking that he would be more comfortable if he were in Adidas sweatpants, gym shoes and a long-sleeve T-shirt.
“In their middle school days, Shelby was breaking pacer push-up records and whooping boys in PE class,” Gardner shared.
“I had Sophie Eschallier, Ayden Matthews and Lilly Figueroa in class together. I’m pretty sure there was enough brain power to cure cancer or do something just as amazing as that,” he said.
Gardner also spoke of Kenyon Rosales, saying that he taught him that “a young man born into the world with the odds stacked up against him can conquer anything with hard work and determination” and that he will “forever miss” Bryan Higgins’s breakfast burritos.
He also shared that Benny Lewis had once fixed his daughter’s bike in the school parking lot.
The graduating class was also there for Gardner during a difficult time.
“When my sister was withering away and dying from cancer,” he said, “I was struggling to show up to work every day; I desperately needed something thing to hold onto. It was Soren, Echo and Alex’s constant laughter that helped me hold on. It was Mitchell telling me that he loved my old PE class that made me feel good. It was Audrey’s smile, every single time she passed me in the hallway, that made me stop being angry at God for taking my sister. Man, what a special group of seniors we have here today!”
In his speech, he also gave the seniors seven pieces of advice for navigating the world. He told them to take life one step at a time and have faith, remember that success is not the amount of money you make, take risks, be thankful and kind, never stop improving yourself, look in the mirror and tell yourself something positive about yourself every day and love is the key to a fulfilling life.
“God bless you seniors, and good luck out there in this great big world. Go make it a better place,” he finished.
Superintendent Todd Cordrey said he was proud of the graduates for all their accomplishments.
“I am happy to share that we are proud of our graduates for all their vast accomplishments. They are well supported by their parents, MSD staff and a caring and engaged community … Our graduates are prepared to influence our town and county and the larger society they live in. The Mancos School district is proud of the 2023 graduates for their perseverance, dedication to excellence, and for living the Blue Jay values,” he said.
Salutatorian Riley Cannon told her fellow seniors that is has been 15 years since they started wishing to grow up, and she couldn’t believe that day was finally here.
She said she hopes she and the other graduates will learn to enjoy and be content in the present, and stop wishing away their days.
“When we were three, we were dreaming to be five so we could go to school. When we were five, we were dreaming to be 13, so we could be teenagers. When we were 13, we were dreaming to be 16 so we could drive on our own. When we were 16, we were dreaming to be 18 so we could graduate and be an adult. Now, here we are … I could continue to explain the process of us wishing we were older, but I challenge you to change that mindset,” Cannon said.
She spoke of the emotions she was feeling, as well as the disbelief that graduation day was finally here before encouraging her class to continue chasing their dreams.
“This class is going to become nurses, doctors, engineers, welders, lawyers, space system operators, firefighters, veterinarians, national park officers, physical trainers and so much more,” she said. “I cannot wait to see what each and every one of us accomplishes in our lives. Never stop chasing your dreams, it does not matter how big or small they may be. … Even when the odds were against us, we persevered and did what many thought may be impossible.”
Valedictorian Sophie Eschallier thanked her family, friends, teachers and classmates for cheering her on during her time in school, and said she would cherish the closeness she was able to share with her fellow seniors during their school years.
“When I first transferred here in fourth grade, I was struck by the close bond our class shared. And now, nearly nine years later, after countless adventures from mystery field trips and playground games to hikes down the Grand Canyon and homecoming floats, that sense of community remains unchanged. Though the journey leading up to this day was difficult, I know that the friends, memories and connections we made along the way are ones that will remain with us for a long time,” she said.
Eschallier urged her classmates to never stop learning in life, noting that it is a skill that will serve them well throughout their college years, careers and for the rest of their lives.
“I hope that we can all strive to be a little bit more curious, no matter what our goals may be,” she said.
After Eschallier’s speech, the seniors took turns walking across the stage to receive their diplomas.
Their accomplishment was met with cheers, hugs and excitement as they closed the door on their high school years, picking up the pens and spreading their wings as they walked out of the auditorium to begin their next adventure and to begin writing the story of their lives.