A lot of emotions, a lot of hard work.

That’s how one Sequoia Pathway Academy senior summarized his final year of high school just prior to a graduation ceremony held Friday evening in the school’s gym. Niel Fishback was among 36 graduates ready to move their tassels to the left and begin their new journey in life.

“A lot of emotions, a lot of hard work,” Fishback said. “It’s a big thing graduating and knowing that I’m going to be an adult here soon. You’ve got to make sure you do the right things because now you’re on your own and your decisions have costs.”

He wasn’t the only graduate expressing a mixture of emotions in those minutes before commencement. Leanna Aneses, who began attending Sequoia Pathway in second grade, echoed feeling nervous and hopeful while waiting in a hallway before the ceremony.

“I’m actually kind of nervous,” Aneses said. “I’ve been here since second grade, so it’s been years knowing a bunch of these people and seeing how we’ve all grown.”

“But I’m also just looking forward to the future and getting started on everything,” she said.

For Aneses, that means moving on to Central Arizona College in the fall.

Christiana McCorkle was also ready to move on to CAC after graduation.

“I feel excited, I’m ready to graduate,” she said. “After 12 years of school, I’ve been waiting for this day.”

McCorkle was also eager to celebrate another accomplishment: being the first in her family’s generation to graduate high school.

“I’m the only one to have graduated high school,” she said. “My family is proud of me. They’ve been saying that all day.”

Dozens of families echoed that pride while waiting in the gym. They filled the bleachers as they held huge signs featuring the faces of graduates and carried roses and balloons. It was a packed house.

Danelle Lendsey was one of the couple hundred or so family members supporting a graduate. Her son, Saif Elijah Woods, was one of four Sequoia seniors who signed to college athletic teams in March. Lendsey was excited to see him move forward with college and football.

“It’s kind of surreal,” she said. “(Saif) made it, they all made it. I’m just very, very proud.”

Sequoia Dean of Students Tiffany Dunaway also expressed her elight in congratulating the graduating class during the commencement ceremony.

“Today…is about the legacy you will leave once you graduate,” Dunaway said. “My hope is the class of 2023 will walk out of here today feeling proud of all they have accomplished over the last four years.”