When Robert Miguel speaks to the graduating seniors of Maricopa High School on Thursday, it won’t just be as chairman of the Ak-Chin Indian Community.
He is also speaking as the father of two of the graduates.
He is also marking the 30th anniversary of his own graduation from the same school.
Miguel can’t remember who spoke at his graduation in 1986, but he wants the Class of 2016 to have better recall.
“I’m going to tell them, ‘Remember the night and who’s sitting next to you,’” he said. “My class was the biggest at the time and it was 56 students. Eighty percent of them I’ve never seen since graduation. So look around, look beside you and see who’s there, because it might be the last time you see them.”
MHS has 336 graduating seniors.
He said being asked to be a speaker at graduation was emotional for him. “How many parents can say they were the guest speaker at their child’s graduation?” he said. “It just put the cherry on top of the ice cream.”
In the past 30 years, he has watched a lot of changes at MHS. The growth is obvious, but he’s also pleased with the depth and diversity of some programs and “many more opportunities at the school than there were in my time,” particularly the students’ ability to get started in college while still in high school.
Maricopa High School graduation starts at 7:30 p.m. on May 19 at Ram Stadium.
Mayor Christian Price
Principal Renita Myers
Valedictorian Savannah Hull
Salutatorian Sienna Garcia
Student Body President Ciera Reynolds
Senior Class President Cristina Lorayes
Class motto: “Remember yesterday, Dream for tomorrow, Live for today.”
“The staff and officials try to adapt, and the growth approached them really, really quick, so they’re trying to play catch-up with some programs,” he said.
Miguel specifically noted the special-needs program. One of his daughters going through Thursday’s exercises is a special-needs student.
“I know they are behind in that, they’re lacking in that as far as staffing and the services they need to provide,” he said. “But I understand, because the growth hit them so vastly. Hopefully in the future they’ll improve the programming. But Maricopa’s a good school overall.”
Even as a teen, Miguel said, he knew he wanted to be a tribal leader, “but I didn’t know how I was going to get there.”
He said he wants this year’s seniors to know they will face many obstacles before they reach their goals. They will face different opportunities and failures, even different jobs than anticipated.
“They’re going to go through highs and lows, but it’s those things that are going to make you succeed and push you to be who you’re eventually going to become,” the chairman said.
Miguel said though he wanted to be in tribal leadership like his maternal grandfather, Jonas Miguel, who raised him, he worked as a farm laborer, worked in parks and recreation, and spent 17 years as a photojournalist for the community newspaper. He said now he sees how those careers are part of his understanding of tribal leadership.
He said words he’s lived by since junior high are “Failure is a part of success. If you’re afraid of failure, you’ll never succeed.” He said his grandfather told him “never to be afraid to go after what you want to become.”
He also credits several others with keeping him on the right path and believing in him. When Miguel was in high school, Police Chief Milton Paul Antone threw him in jail for no reason.
“After a couple of hours he came to my jail cell, and of course I was afraid. And he told me, ‘You know why I threw you in jail?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t know why.’ And he told me basically I was hanging around with a bad crowd. I needed to make a decision. There’s a wrong road and a right road.”
Antone was later killed in the line of duty, but his effort to guide Miguel has had a 30-year impact.
“It was really important that he believed in me and made me make a choice to go right or left,” he said.
Besides the entire Miguel family and his cousins the Peters brothers – Cecil, David and Norbert – who took him under wing and supported him with advice and even financially, previous and current tribal council members have helped him become who he is now.
Though Miguel is an easy talker and accustomed to addressing large crowds, he’s nervous about speaking at graduation.
“My girls are going to be there,” he said. “But I’m living the dream, and it only gets better.”
The students listed below may or may not have met the requirements for graduating at the time of publication.