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Montezuma-Cortez graduates celebrate memories, begin new journey

Graduates toss their caps into the air at the end of the commencement ceremony Thursday. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)
Valedictorian encourages his fellow classmates to always be a friend to others

The Montezuma-Cortez school district and local officials bid farewell to the Class of 2024 on Thursday, congratulating the 111 students for overcoming challenges and encouraging them to do their best as doors of opportunity open before them.

After the Red Sky Drummers performed, the MCHS seniors walked across the Panther Stadium football field to the cheers and applause of family and friends.

The national anthem was sung by the high school senior choir and band members, and after Darwin Whiteman Jr. opened the ceremony with a prayer, Principal Jennifer Boniface welcomed graduates and attendees.

“Today is about these outstanding young women and men that are seated before us,” Boniface said. “This ceremony acknowledges the hard work and dedication that for the past 12 years these students have put into their academics and activities. This graduating class has faced many challenges over the past few years, and you’ve made it through. Let me be the first to congratulate you on this milestone in your life. You are here, and you have made it.”

Montezuma-Cortez High School Principal Jennifer Boniface announces the Class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)
Selwyn Whiteskunk of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council speaks to the Class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to Tri-City Record)
Student-selected speaker Toni Broughton speaks to the Class of 2024. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)
Class valedictorian Easton Hartsoe gives his address on Thursday. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)
Class salutatorian Anna Jensen gives her address on Thursday. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)
Students’ personalized graduation caps. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)
Graduating seniors interact during the commencement ceremony on Thursday. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)
Graduating seniors interact during the commencement ceremony on Thursday. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)
Graduates turn and wave to their families at the end of the ceremony on Thursday. (Matthew Tangeman/Special to The Journal)

After Boniface’s welcome, Native American Tribal Councilman Selwyn Whiteskunk presented a speech to the graduates, urging them to look forward and not back, as they begin their journey.

“Continue to strive to do your best, whatever it is that is your best,” he said. “Some of you are going to be homemakers. Some of you are going to be working in the labor force. Some of you are going to go on to become doctors, lawyers, something you’ve always wanted to be. Go get it, it’s yours for the taking.”

Councilman Whiteman spoke to students as well, telling them that life holds countless doors of opportunity, and it is up to them to choose the doors they will take.

“Every day there’s a set of doors that opens,” Whiteman said. “Some days there five doors, some days 50 doors. Some days there’s one level; another, 20 levels. That’s life. Those are doors of opportunity. Whatever it is you’re going to take, it’s going to be up to you and could be your choice. Always remember the answer for your action is to be true to yourself.”

The senior high school class was tasked with choosing a graduation speaker who has made an impact in their lives. The class chose science instructor and school nurse Toni Broughton, who has been working in her roles at MCHS for nine years.

“As I stand here today, I am reminded of the journey you’ve taken to arrive at this moment,” Broughton said. “As you stand on the brink of a new adventure, I want to share a simple but powerful idea of honoring your authentic self. This concept is often repeated or perhaps taken for granted, but it cannot be overstated. In a world that sometimes pressures you to conform, embracing your true self is an act of courage and a testament to your integrity.”

“So my dear graduates, as you step out into the world, whether you are entering the workforce, continuing your education, serving your country or committing to your faith, I urge you to be bold, to be courageous, but above all, to be yourself. Embrace the journey with an open heart and an open mind. … I have no doubt the Class of 2024 will make a significant impact on the world. I am so proud of every one of you,” she said.

Salutatorian Anna Jensen spoke of the bittersweet feeling of graduating, while encouraging her fellow graduates to embrace every day.

“Oftentimes we catch ourselves saying or hearing, ‘I can’t wait to graduate’ or ‘I can’t wait for summer,’” Jensen said. “And what I wish to covey is that we spend a lot of time wishing time away and don’t even realize it until it’s over. Now we’re graduating, and all that we are left with is memories.”

Jensen went on to thank her parents for being her “pillars” and her friends for always making her laugh and for being a listening ear, as well as thanking MCHS teachers and staff for their part in her education.

“I picture the Class of 2024 as a deeply rooted tree with many branches. We have the same roots, but as a tree eventually divides itself into individual branches, our paths similarly diverge as we go our separate ways,” she said. “I’m so proud of all of my classmates for your many accomplishments, and wish you the best chapter of your lives. Thank you for making my time at MCHS meaningful. In the words of the well-known philosopher Winnie the Pooh, ‘How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’ Congratulations Class of 2024!”

Valedictorian Easton Hartsoe started his speech by thanking God, his family, classmates and teachers for helping him get to the graduation stage. He then said he wanted to share two stories.

The first story was from the book of Exodus in the Bible where Moses and the people of Israel were in the midst of battle. As long as Moses held his hands in the air, Israel was winning the battle. When his hands were down, they were losing.

Soon, Hartsoe shared that holding his arms up became to difficult for Moses to do on his own, so his friends helped hold his arms up, allowing Israel to win the battle.

“This happened because his friends put forth the effort to help him,” Hartsoe said.

He also shared the story of a freshman student whose books were knocked out of his arms on the way home from school one day. Instead of ignoring him, another student stopped to help him gather his books that had fallen. While walking home with the freshman, the other student asked if he’d like to play football with him and his friends that weekend, to which the freshman student said, “Yes.”

“The two became best friends through high school,” Hartsoe said. “At graduation, the freshman was also the valedictorian. He got up on stage and confessed that he had planned to kill himself that same weekend he had fallen in the dirt. If it wasn’t for his friend, he would have done the unspeakable. Small gestures change a person’s life for better or for worse. I encourage you to be a friend and not a stranger, and do the right thing.”

After Hartsoe left the stage, Boniface recognized the students who were graduating with concurrent enrollment college credits, sharing that students had earned from six to 72 college credits before graduating, with one student already earning their associate of arts degree. She also acknowledged the honors diploma recipients before students walked across the stage one by one for their diplomas.

After the final student receiving their diploma, the Class of 2024 turned around to wave at family and friends, as the crowd cheered for the new graduates. After turning their tassels and throwing the caps, the new Panthers alumni officially took their first step into the newest adventure of their lives, holding tight to their class quote from Bob Marley.

“Beginnings are usually scary, and endings are usually sad, but it’s everything in between that makes it all worth living.”

This article was based in part on a recording of the ceremony provided by Nicholaus Sandner and Robyne Cote.