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Yvanira Kelly Barbosa MHS 2020
Yvanira Kelly Barbosa smiles as she receives her diploma on Thursday morning from Patti Coutre, a school board member.

After a year that culminated in so much disappointment for many Maricopa High School graduates, the Class of 2020 and its accomplishments were celebrated Thursday during a drive-thru diploma distribution.

Amid blowing of car horns, thumping music, blowing balloons and cheers of congratulations, graduates clad in red caps and gowns were presented diplomas in their cars in a driveway at the high school, accompanied by family and friends. It began at 10:30 a.m. and was scheduled to last about four hours.

It was an effort by teachers, staff and administrators to give this year’s class of 512 graduates the best send-off they could – for now – as social distancing remains important during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Tracey Lopeman, superintendent of the Maricopa Unified School District, was helping to cheer on graduates in a year that they had virtually none of the traditional trappings of senior year.

“We’re trying to let our Maricopa Rams know how proud we are of them, and that we know that this is not what we had hoped for, but it’s only just the beginning, and their best is yet to come,” she said, greeting cars as they rolled toward the diploma distribution station.

“I would like for them to use their horns more so we can wake up the neighborhood, and make this the proper moment,” she said. “We’ve got to let them know: the Rams are graduating. We’re proud of them.”

“Make some noise,” she yelled to one car. “Congratulations!”

‘Really thoughtful’

Many graduates were grateful for the show of support.

“I think what they did was pretty nice, because currently we have to keep social distancing from each other,” said Alexandra Cuellar, 18, as she and her family waited to take photos at one of the backdrops set up in the student parking lot.

“The drive-thru was pretty nice, having the support of our staff and our teachers. It was nice to see them at least one last time,” she said. “Then, putting up these booths to take a picture with our families in front of our school, I thought that was really thoughtful and good of them.”

Her dad, Ricardo Cuellar, said he agreed with his daughter about the festivities, adding simply: “I am very proud.”

As he waited to take pictures with his family, Derek Blakely, 17, wore his red gown and mortarboard over a T-shirt and black Converse sneakers. He wore a tassel on his cap given to him by his sister, Rachel, who graduated from Maricopa High School in 2017. “I just broke the ’17 off,” he said, laughing.

He said the school year was a bit surreal.

“It was pretty weird,” Blakely said. “The weekend that we started spring break was the weekend that Disney and everything shut down and it all felt real. The whole coronavirus thing.

“For a while, it just felt like we never came back from break. At one point, we were going to come back, but then we just don’t.”

He said he was grateful for the pomp around the diploma drive-thru – attended by his parents, grandparents, his sister and her boyfriend – but conceded it was bittersweet in some ways.

“It’s so almost-something, you know,” he said. “It’s like a reminder about how real it could have been.”

“Like it’s nice and I appreciate it, obviously. You can see how much effort and love everyone put into this,” he said, before adding it was also “a reminder that, oh yeah, I didn’t get senior week, I didn’t get prom, I didn’t get so many things….”

GraduateTruck MHS 2020
A graduate waves from the back of a pickup truck during Thursday’s celebration of the Class of 2020. Photo by Kyle Norby

Quick and patient, with social distancing

Before 10:30 a.m., vehicles were lined up along North Taft Street and back onto Honeycutt Avenue in front of the school. Teachers and staff cheered from stations under canopies as cars waited. As the students entered the school grounds, they were greeted by a DJ blaring “Hey Ya” by Outkast and “Fire Burning on the Dance Floor” by Sean Kingston.

Many cars were decorated in black-and-red, with messages of congratulations and good luck next to their graduate’s name. Some were festooned with red, black and Spongebob balloons.

As graduates took their diplomas, they could move into the student lot to take photos at one of three backdrops to digitize the memory. The most popular backdrop, featuring a pattern of recurring MHS Rams and Adidas logos, was set up under a tree. A sign reminded: “Please be quick. Be patient. Respect Social Distancing.”

Most families were following the rules, taking their photos quickly and moving aside for the next group. Patience looked to be in good supply.

Nearby, two signs on cars summed up the difficult year, their traditional messages carrying more meaning this time around.

One read: “Class 2020 Class that Made History.”

The other: “The Tassle Was Worth The Hassle 2020 You Did It!”

Derek Blakely MHS 2020
Derek Blakely, a graduate of the Class of 2020 at Maricopa High School, poses for a photo with his diploma. Photo by Kyle Norby

‘Doing as much as they can’

The school’s efforts to make Diploma Day special did not go unnoticed.

“I appreciate it. It’s better than nothing,” said Nadia Chacon, 17, sitting in the passenger seat of a Chevy Traverse as she moved through the line. “They could have just sent me my diploma.”

Yvanira Kelly Barbosa, 17, was taking a positive view on a challenging year.

“It was a good year,” she said, simply. “It was fine.”

Her father, Jose Barbosa, said he appreciated the celebration being put on by the high school.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “The kids can come in and enjoy. I mean, they work all year. This is what we do for them.”

Graduate Aidan Di Maria picked up his diploma with two friends, Isaac Barrett and Brandon Ortega, who had much different experiences when they graduated in 2019.

“It just sucks that we can’t even have a trip, which I get,” he said. ““They are doing everything right. They can’t do much, so they are doing as much as they can.”

BrianWinter MHS2020
Brian Winter, outgoing principal at Maricopa High School, calls in the next graduate headed to the diploma station at Thursday’s distribution. Photo by Kyle Norby

The group wondered, though, if spreading out the distribution over a couple of days would have allowed graduates the opportunity to have more friends and family join them.

“There was other options than a drive-thru,” his mother noted. “And not in December.”

Outgoing principal Brian Winter greeted graduates, passing along his congratulations before radioing the student’s name 70 feet down the driveway to the folks grabbing diplomas and handing them out.

He said the event had one focus: the students.

“It’s about the kids,” he said. “It’s a difficult time, obviously. This group has lost a lot. And so anything that we can do to help celebrate the situation we want to do. And obviously the full-blown ceremony in December is going to be important as well.”

Then he turned to greet another car, another one of his graduates: “Congratulations!”


MHS Senior Giveaway
A promotional poster for the MHS 2020 student giveaway.

Seniors at Maricopa High School have one last chance to get entered for free prizes, but the clock is ticking.

The MHS 2020 Senior Giveaway will award more than 150 prizes contributed by local businesses and members of the community, including gift cards to restaurants, Visa gift cards, jewelry and makeup. Every prize is worth at least $25, organizers said.

Only MHS seniors are eligible for prizes. Anyone can enter a senior on the @Parents of MHS Rams Facebook group, but the senior must pick up the prize if they win.

A student’s name must be entered by the student or by family and friends in the comments on the Official Post of the @Parents of MHS Rams group while sharing a favorite high school memory. Students can be entered only once.

Seniors are being temporarily approved to join the group to get entered for the giveaway.

Winners will be selected by a computer-generated prize wheel.

But time is running out to get entered, as prizes will be awarded live on the Facebook group at 5 p.m. Thursday. Organizers of the giveaway are trying to reach as many students as possible, so enter your favorite senior’s name if not entered already.

Prizes have been donated by many businesses, including Buff City Soaps, Honeycutt Coffee, Plaza Bonita, Yogurt Jungle, Water and Ice and InMaricopa. Many others have donated prizes.

Community members helping with contributions include Patti Coutre, Cindi Price, Bob Marsh, Bree Campbell and many others.

The giveaway was organized by Amber Flores, a teacher at the high school, with the help of senior moms Kellie Goodrum, Gayle Randolph, Tahani Hanani, Diane Berg and Jamie West.

Earlier Thursday, graduating seniors will receive their diplomas in a drive-by distribution, according to an alphabetical schedule from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Students were encouraged to wear their cap and gown for photos against an MHS banner/backdrop in the student parking lot.

An Adopt-a-Senior page for upcoming high school graduates has spread joy around Maricopa.

The first week we created it, the support of this community was infectious.

With more than 600 graduating high school seniors living in Maricopa, the announcement that schools were closed for the year due to coronavirus and there would be no standard graduation ceremonies was stinging for the community.

Three women, all mothers of seniors attending Maricopa High School, wanted to make sure the teens weren’t “swept under the rug.” They started a Facebook page, “City of Maricopa Adopt a Senior 2020,” to give them a little extra support and love.

Jodi Levy launched the page April 21 after chatting with her friend Kasi Johnson. Christina Dryden, who met them on the MHS Parents page, came on board, and all three became administrators as the page quickly drew 635 members.

They opened it to all high school seniors in town, no matter what school they attended or if they were homeschooled. At least one of them is handling the page at all times, answering questions and watching for duplicate entries.

“These kids, this is their milestone,” Levy said. “They’ve worked so hard to get to that graduation day for this to be taken away. I mean, it’s nobody’s fault. It happens. They just need to be shown, ‘We understand what you’re going through; we’re here for you.'”

Parents or friends or the seniors themselves can post a photo and information about a senior to be adopted. Other community members can then look for names that are “not adopted” and claim them. That means private messaging the poster and finding out what is wanted or needed by the senior.

Surprises have included snacks, gift baskets, balloons, yard signs, gift cards and more.

“The parents post the pictures once they get their little surprise or whatever their adoptee has brought to them, and it just melts your heart to see what this page is doing for these kids who thought they lost everything,” Johnson said.

They have seen people who don’t have kids in school come on the page to adopt one or two, or more. They have seen friends adopting friends.

Levy said the circumstances hit some seniors harder than others and sometimes hit parents harder than the kids.

“Everyone, no matter what your story, we’re here for you,” she said. “We see what you’re going through. We’re so proud that you guys got to this moment and you’re just pushing through in this crazy, freaking time.”

The page has kept pace with the number of “adoptees,” and Johnson said they are trying to reach more seniors.

“I just sob. The first week we created it, the support of this community was infectious,” she said. “Everybody was jumping on board. Seniors were getting adopted multiple times. Some had two, three, four people that adopted them. Just to show them that they love them and see their reactions.”

Dryden said the situation is bigger than just being able to walk across a stage and get a diploma. Each senior has had their individual challenges and struggles and accomplishments to reach the graduation milestone. Some have serious medical conditions. Some have terrible family situations. Some have had serious academic struggles. Some are the only child in their family, and parents were left with a mountain of disappointment.

“Every kid’s got a story and a history to their journey,” Dryden said.

Levy said they want to have a big push on the page on graduation day, whatever form that takes, to show the seniors how much they are appreciated.

“We just wanted to lift spirits for these seniors,” Dryden said. “That’s what it amounts to.”

High school seniors across the country saw their final year implode as COVID-19 stripped away many of the spring events that normally put a big exclamation point on the achievement of graduation. But that hasn’t stopped these outstanding seniors from pursuing their goals. So far, they have earned over $7.7 million in scholarships. At Maricopa High School, 440 seniors have special honors and distinctions and 165 are senior award recipients.
MHS’s virtual Senior Awards Night video: https://youtu.be/UZ3wb1fKK7Y

Freya Abraham
Maricopa High School
The valedictorian of MHS Class of 2020 spent all her school years in Maricopa. Her career goal is to be a pediatric neurologist, working in healthcare advocacy and public policy. She has earned the highest GPA in MHS history and was named the mathematics and AP Student of the Year. She also earned the most local, state and national honors in school history.
How are you achieving your career goal? Attending University of Arizona as a Baird Scholar, attend best possible medical school for neurology. I participated in Banner Health volunteer, T-Gen Bioscience Leadership Program, Maricopa STEM club, job shadow medical professionals, Project Puente Microbiology intern [anticipated], many hours spent researching and applying, JSA director of expansion (policy exposure) and DECA (marketing and presentation skills).
Greatest achievement: National and state scholarships and awards including National Merit finalist, Presidential Scholar candidate, Coca-Cola semi-finalist, Flinn semifinalist. Winning second place in the world for Business Marketing Services at DECA’s 2018 International Career Development Conference, being on the international stage and making friends from across the country.
COVID-19: I’m not frustrated with anyone or anything in particular, except maybe for myself for paying for things too far in advance. It’s hard to believe in the intensity of my losses when I see death counts rising and the struggles of healthcare workers worldwide. I feel blessed to have the option to stay home with my family and be safe; I didn’t realize that was a privilege before.

Riley Bell
Maricopa High School
A Maricopa native, Riley is a noted dancer who performed with the MHS dance and theater troupes this year. She received an Academic Excellence award. She plans to become a hospital pharmacist.
How are you achieving your career goal? I plan to attend CAC to finish my general studies, then transfer to U of A. From there I plan to do pharmacy school.
Greatest achievement: Assuming the role of president of MHS’s dance company and choreographing countless dance pieces throughout my high school career. My favorite memories from high school are a collection of the hours and hours of rehearsing for recital with my dance family.
COVID-19: With the cancellation of the remainder of our senior year, I regret not taking advantage of the time I had left; I wish I would have cherished it more. The biggest sting is not having a “senior-spring recital.” I have been preparing myself for years for my last time on stage and I was not ready to say goodbye.

Cassandra Bonah
Maricopa High School
A Maricopa native, Cassandra participated in student council and plans to be a general physician for low-income and marginalized communities and eventually run for public office to encourage healthcare reform.
How are you achieving your career goal? Obtain a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a minor in law and society at NAU to eventually attend medical school. I currently take AP and Honors courses to prepare myself for the rigor and intensity of university and medical school. I also spend my time volunteering to help low-income communities through church.
Greatest accomplishment: Being awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream award. It felt nice to be recognized in the name of someone I respect and admire so much. My favorite memory has been Mr. MHS. I was a part of the student council committee for it and seeing it all come together was just amazing.
COVID-19: It was difficult at first to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my senior prom or walk the stage at graduation due to COVID-19. However, it’s nice to see the Class of 2020 in MUSD, as well as all over Arizona, recognizing one another and supporting each other through this. It’s comforting to know that we’re all in this together.

Brielle Duff
Sequoia Pathway
Brielle has lived in Maricopa less than a year after moving from Kentucky. She is graduating from Pathway as salutatorian of the Class of 2020. She is pursuing a career in music.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have been accepted into Western Kentucky University’s music program, which I will be attending in the fall, and I am dedicating myself to my music.

Greatest achievement: Overcoming the obstacles in my life that held me back from my potential. It felt freeing and satisfying. If I had stayed in that situation, I would still be trapped in my own belief that I couldn’t achieve anything worthwhile with my life. Now I am on my way to making an impact.
COVID-19: It has hindered me from getting the benefits of classroom learning, but it has allowed me more time to spend with family and work on my career interest. While losing educational hours is a loss, the virtual learning has allowed me to work on my own schedule and increase my self-discipline.

Roberto Esqueda Quintana
Maricopa High School
Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Roberto has lived in Maricopa 11 years and played four seasons of MHS football. His career goal is to help preserve buildings for centuries to come.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have applied for many scholarships and have started diving deep into the field and what I will have to learn in college. Attend ASU and get my degree in architecture.
Greatest achievement: Being able to succeed in Honors and AP classes while being a multi-sport varsity athlete and having many
hours of community service throughout my high school career.
COVID-19: It is quite sad; a lot of things were taken from me, but I have no doubt in my mind that we will pull through and find a way to please everyone.

Yasmeen Hanania
Maricopa High School
Yasmeen has spent all her school years in Maricopa, moving with her family from California when she was 4. She plans to attend ASU W.P. Carey School of Business to be an entrepreneur and study political science to enter government.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have interned with City Hall before and have campaigned for my State Officer position with Arizona DECA. I also am taking marketing and have participated and helped run Market Day at Maricopa High School and have presented my business idea to entrepreneurs to get advice and connections to start my business.
Greatest achievement: Becoming a state officer for Arizona DECA, representing District 9 and being able to be a part of an organization that has helped shape me and has prepared me for my future and being able to give back to my members and hold conferences and events for them. Also qualifying for ICDC the last two years and getting glass at State.
COVID-19: We have worked so hard and accomplished so much and the fact that all the rewards we get for our accomplishments that other graduates were able to get have been taken away by a disease is extremely devastating, but I understand that it is for our safety and that the Class of 2020 is still going to be the best graduating class.

Angello Hernandez de la Peña
Maricopa High School
Gianni discovered computer programming in middle school and now has set his sights on becoming a software engineer at a large company. What he’ll be doing, he said, depends on whether he goes to graduate school. He was named MHS science Student of the Year and was admitted to Harvard College.
How are you achieving your career goal? I will study computer science at Harvard and possibly pursue Artificial Intelligence for graduate school, depending on my interest by that time. I also plan to minor in history or political science. I have already learned to program in Python, C++ and Java. 
Greatest achievement: Being accepted to Harvard. Other than that, I would say my greatest accomplishment has been my acceptance to and participation in the SAMS summer program at Carnegie Mellon last year. The program helped me immensely through the college application process and made me even more excited to pursue computer science in college.
COVID-19: School shutting down has made it difficult to stay motivated about my classes. Being stuck inside all day without any in-person contact with my friends takes a toll after a while. I’m also disappointed I won’t be able to see my friends speak at graduation or walk on stage. However, I understand this is all being done to protect the safety of ourselves and others. I hope the situation clears in time for the next school year to begin and our city is not hit heavily by the pandemic.

Haley Lemon
Maricopa High School
A 12-year student in Maricopa, Haley has had a diverse high school experience and has diverse plans for her future. She was named the drama and theatre arts Student of the Year and is the salutatorian of MHS Class of 2020.
How are you achieving your career goal? I am going to NAU in the fall and the plan is to begin with an associate degree studying in the fields of English, studio art and/or forestry. I will then serve a mission with my church and return to school to complete my bachelor’s and go from there. I am a person who feels obligated to constantly be working on myself. I work hard to do my best morally, academically and creatively in all areas of my life, and I hope that effort is enough to give me the opportunities of growth and experience I would like to have in life.
Greatest achievement: I was amazingly lucky to be able to be both the president of the internationally recognized MHS Theatre Company and the salutatorian of the Class of 2020. I consider both of these opportunities in such high regard I cannot pick which one is greater.
COVID-19: I think it has made me realize something very important about how I should treat the rest of my life. When I first realized my senior year had basically ended, I wrestled a lot with the knowledge that the show I was waiting months to direct was cancelled, that I would get no chance to give a speech to thousands of people like I had dreamed of, that I wouldn’t get the senior week I was so excited for and that no one else in my class would either. I realized the titles were pointless, but the effort I put into them and the growth I received from them wasn’t. I did what I could, and though the physical rewards I don’t get to experience, I do get to go into the rest of my life knowing I have the capacity to always try my best and be personally successful just for my own peace of mind.

Juan Marquez
Maricopa High School
A native Californian, Juan and his family moved to Maricopa in 2019, and he found a way to excel in a new school for his senior year. He plans to attend Grand Canyon University while working for Proof Pest Control.
How are you achieving your career goal? My career goal is to find something that makes me happy, so I don’t work a day in my life. I am practicing yoga, reading books on interesting topics, and searching for my heart’s desires.
Greatest achievement: Becoming Mr. MHS, joining the wrestling team and being able to start at a new place and still do good. My favorite memory from high school is the interaction between students and all the smiles and laughs that took place.
COVID-19: It hasn’t stopped me. I’m still having a blast. There is always a good side and bad side. It matters what you look at and become.

Leah Peterson
Sequoia Pathway
A native Maricopan, Leah is the valedictorian of her class at Pathway. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which inspired her to set her career goal toward being a nurse.
How are you achieving your career goal? When I was diagnosed, I spent some time in the ICU and it gave me insight and made me feel very thankful for the nurses who watched and took care of me as well as reassuring me in a hard time. I hope to be this way to someone else in the future. The steps I am taking to reach this is going to a university. I have been accepted into Grand Canyon University and will start classes that will prepare me for being a nurse. I was also accepted into their Honors College which will provide me many opportunities as well.
Greatest achievement: Becoming valedictorian of my graduating class. School has never been easy for me, and I have had to work really hard to get to where I am. My advice for others would be no matter what your goals are just try your best and work hard at it. You won’t be disappointed by the results.
COVID-19: It has affected my senior year tremendously. It’s sad that I may not see my classmates again and may not have a prom or graduation or be able to have the same experiences as other senior classes before me. I hope I will be able to have a graduation when things get back to normal. 

Elijah Quinto
Maricopa High School
A standout on the color guard auxiliary for his school’s marching band, Elijah came to Maricopa five years ago. He plans to teach high school science and wants to be part of a professional-level color guard. He was named one of just six Winterguard Arizona scholarship recipients.
How are you achieving your career goal? Finishing high school and starting CAC classes in fall of 2020.
Greatest achievement: Being promoted at work to become a shift lead at Dutch Bros. My favorite memory of high school would be all the times during band and band competitions. I think getting a caption in our auxiliary section was my favorite part.
COVID-19: I unfortunately let go of high school after we learned our winterguard season would be cut short due to COVID-19, therefore I lost hope in all aspects of life in terms of finishing the last year of my formal education. I know, however, that I will still strive for my own education in the future and if that means online school, then we must change our norm.

Alex-Ann Velasco
Maricopa High School
A self-described Army brat, Alex-Ann came to Maricopa her sophomore year. With a wide array of talents exhibited at MHS, she plans to hone her studies to become an obstetrician.
How are you achieving your career goal? Studying biomedical science in the Honors College at Northern Arizona University. I will use my biomedical science degree to meet all my prerequisite requirements for medical school.

Greatest achievement: My costume designs competing at the Central Arizona Festival of Theatre and qualifying to compete at the International Thespian Festival. Also, reading “The Flea” by John Donne in my sophomore honors English class or getting on the roof for the first time as the Fiddler in last year’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.
COVID-19: Events like graduation, senior awards night, cap decorating, prom and even dress shopping were things I looked forward to for years. I understand it is better to take extra precautions for our safety than to risk anyone getting seriously sick or worse. But it is still a bummer to check your phone after a shower to see more has been canceled in what seems to be the blink of an eye. We worked hard for years to earn all the fun senior activities that we no longer get.

This story appears in part in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Graduation at Maricopa High School will be different in 2020.

In a year when high school graduates nationwide are missing out on traditional celebrations due to public health considerations over coronavirus, Maricopa High School is working to ensure its seniors get proper recognition for their achievement.

After seniors voted overwhelmingly to have a traditional graduation ceremony in December, a planning committee continues to work on the details and will share them when finalized.

On May 21, the high school will release its graduation video on the district web site, according to the district calendar. In addition, Ak-Chin UltraStar will play the video on its large outdoor screen on dates and times to be determined and shared soon.

InMaricopa is helping to produce the video and will again print the high school’s graduation program, to be handed out to graduates with their diplomas. The plan to distribute diplomas is still being finalized and will be announced soon.

The high school’s online program and senior awards listing will be shared on May 4 with the school community, according to the calendar. Award pick-up will be May 6 in the student parking lot by the campus entrance gate. Yearbooks will be distributed on May 13 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Class of 2020 gathered for a photo earlier in the school year before COVID-19 forced them apart. Submitted photo

“I know people are dying and in really bad situations. So, I feel super guilty that I’m upset about losing a senior prom and not getting to walk at graduation.” – Alex-Ann Velasco

Taliya Johnson is a Maricopa High School senior who, like everyone else in her class, was looking forward to the final weeks of her senior year.

“I think the hardest part was hearing that we’re not going to have an actual graduation,” Johnson said. “We’re all kind of losing motivation, because that was our motivation. It was kind of heartbreaking.”

High school seniors reflect on everything they will be missing now that schools have been closed state-wide for the rest of the year due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The closures, announced by Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, came after an uncertain timeline of spring break extensions and forced schools to move curriculums to online platforms.

While some students are adept in the changing environment, cruising through online classes, others are beginning to struggle in time-management and focusing on schoolwork.

Many left materials for projects and assignments in the school building, unsure of when they can return to campus to retrieve their belongings. Some wonder how they’ll return textbooks before the end of the year. Overall, seniors lament on all the things they will be missing as a result of closures as part of COVID-19 precautions.

Student Voices

Freya Abraham

Freya Abraham: “It’s hard to believe in the intensity of my losses like prom, graduation, yearbook signings, etc. But it’s also hard to see the death counts rising and the struggles of health care workers. I think that the closure is unfortunate, but necessary. I hear the empathy our teachers and organizers have with students, and that makes it easier.”
Freya is the valedictorian for the class of 2020 whose career goal is to be a physician.

Haley Lemon: “I had a dream of speaking at a graduation ceremony; I wanted the opportunity to say what I believed to a massive group, to try to say something that would inspire people to care for others … Now that is all completely swept away.”
Haley is the salutatorian for the class of 2020.

Angello “Gianni” Hernandez de la Pena: “It came up very sudden, but I told my friends when spring break started, ‘We’re probably not coming back.’ And that’s what happened. Without graduation and without prom, it’s kind of sad. Our course work has reduced a lot. I’ve lost a lot of motivation. It’s hard to stay motivated with courses online.”
Gianni was accepted to and will be attending Harvard College.

Zanaa Ramirez: “I’m a little frustrated. We were doing really well so far, and my teammates worked really hard.”
Zanaa is a leader on the MHS track and field team, which had its season canceled.

Alex-Ann Velasco: “Knowing I won’t get (graduation), working super hard for the stoles and medallions and cords from the different programs I was in – like NHS, theatre, all these programs that were going to give me things to wear at graduation specifically, I’m not going to be able to wear those anymore.”
Alex-Ann qualified for nationals in the theatre/performing arts competition, which was cancelled due to travel ban.  

Taylor Russo

Taylor Russo: “I feel for my friends who are part of the baseball team, they didn’t get to finish their season. I would definitely be really upset if I wasn’t able to finish mine. I got to have my senior night, I got to have my last game and everything because this happened right when the season finished.”
Taylor was the MHS soccer captain during his sophomore, junior and senior year.

Taliya Johnson: “Missing the last dance recital made me the most upset. The last dance recital is the last time dancing with your team, your family. You get a rose at the last recital, on senior night. It’s a big thing for everyone in the company. Going to dance was the thing I looked forward to every day.”
Taliya is a member of the MHS Dance Company’s Performance Group, whose final dance was canceled.

Lexi Hicks

Lexi Hicks: “The thing I was looking forward to the most was definitely graduation, prom, senior ditch day and senior week. I don’t live with my parents so I was extremely excited to have them come down and watch their oldest daughter graduate. I was excited to decorate my cap with my friends and even take prom pictures with them.”
Lexi’s family is from Chicago, Illinois. She had already purchased a prom dress, tickets and graduation memorabilia.

Destiny Campbell: “I am a member of Student Council. This being my last year, I won’t get to fully enjoy all of the end-of-the-year celebrations that Student Council holds for seniors. I was looking forward to senior week, prom and graduation.”
Destiny will be the first member of her family to graduate high school.

Taliya Johnson

A Message from Teachers

Even with the uncertainty, loss and changes, many students have referenced the support and structure teachers are giving, as much as they can, from their newly virtualized courses.

“Your milestones may have been postponed, but you haven’t been. Continue to learn, and grow, and reach, and strive, and change, and be.”

Teachers in the English department at MHS wrote a letter to their Class of 2020 students, posting the letter on social media.

“This is a generational turning point,” the letter read.

The letter to students was signed by senior English teachers Aidan Balt, David Blanchard, Juan Garavito, Laura Lomayesva and Talitha Martin, who have all converted to teaching online along with the rest of the school for the remainder of the school year.

“It has been a major shift and is very difficult to keep track of everything changing for many classes,” Lemon said. “Many teachers have been reaching out to their students in addition to all this and they have all been super kind in trying to help us make the best out of this situation.”

MHS Student Council members, earlier in the year. Submitted photo

Final frustrations

Many students have reached the conclusion school closure is necessary for public safety but back-up plans should be applied for the senior class.

Destiny Campbell

“I understand why they did what they did; everyone’s safety should be a priority,” Campbell said. “but I feel that everything else should not have had to have been canceled.”

While many students understand the need for school closures and social distancing, it doesn’t stop them from feeling the loss of their last moments in high school.

“I feel personally guilty,” said Velasco. “I know people are dying and in really bad situations. So, I feel super guilty that I’m upset about losing a senior prom and not getting to walk at graduation, when I know there are serious things happening in the world around this disease, but I’m still upset about it.”

It is still uncertain when students may be able to return to the building to gather personal items or to return textbooks/other school materials.

“I feel like the class of 2020 has handled this pretty well,” Russo said. “I feel like it could have gone a lot worse, and we’ve all taken it in stride.”

Performance Company, last semester. Submitted photo

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Chandler Chang, May 23, 2019, Maricopa High School.

Maricopa High School graduate Chandler Chang delivered this valedictorian address to the Class of 2019 during graduation May 23. A Flinn Scholarship recipient, he has lived in Maricopa 14 years.

By Chandler Chang

Hello, Class of 2019. It is my absolute honor to be speaking here tonight to such a talented group of individuals.

I’m valedictorian and I don’t know how to drive, I’m so bad at cooking I’ll burn water, and I wrote this speech at midnight the day after I was supposed to submit it. If grades were an absolute indicator of success and potential, none of that should be true!

My name is Chandler Chang, but if you only know me from the media, then you might know me as Chandler “Change.” I’ve even received college letters with the same error. Yes, that’s a typo, please don’t make it again.

Before I go any further, I would like to thank everyone whose support made tonight possible. I would personally like to thank my family, friends and teachers for inspiring me to achieve the success I have found myself in today. On behalf of the class of 2019, I would like to thank all parents, teachers, staff, administration, school board members. Your support has empowered us to become the determined young men and women we are now. I’m sure it wasn’t easy putting up with us for four years, or if you’re the parents, a mild seventeen to eighteen years.

Preparing this speech has been a harrowing task. Just a few weeks ago I had no idea what I wanted to say, so I looked to my fellow Flinn Scholars for advice. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. I was desperate for ideas because my speech had to be submitted the next day, so I spammed our group chat. Anyways, here’s what they had to say. Keep in mind these are supposedly the brightest minds in the state.

“Just say ‘peace out y’all’ and sit down.” Too late for that. Someone suggested to “spill everyone’s tea.” I’ve been informed that it means to reveal everyone’s secrets. And lastly, “chug a bottle of apple cider and shout ‘Feel the Burn 2020!’” I’m not even going to pretend like I considered that one.

So, I’m back at square one, and when I reflected on our high school experience and the struggles we have all shared, I found the message I need you all to hear. High school has emphasized the importance of your grades, about presenting colleges this nice three-course meal of grades, test scores and, if they like dessert, extracurricular activities. Our teachers constantly encourage us to avoid this perspective that your grade is a measure of your success, but societal pressures always seem to prevail. It emphasizes grades so much that we pull all-nighters to study for a test or outright skip school to avoid taking the test. It promotes the idea that your grades are a measure of your worth.


Your high school transcript only tells 10 percent of your story, if that. It doesn’t mention that while you were in school you were working two jobs and trying to support your family financially. It doesn’t mention that you have hundreds of volunteer hours at food banks, local churches or rescue shelters. It doesn’t mention that you’re an amazing, kindhearted person with a contagious smile – Dauvian I’m looking at you! Those kinds of things define who you are, your character, not a test score and not a column of letters on a page.

It’s a grim reality that society values that test score and column of letters more than those things. I think the system of awarding scholarships based exclusively on GPA, SAT scores and ACT scores is flawed, but colleges nationwide promote this. Even when such a system tells you otherwise, I urge you all to remember that your grades are not your labels.

I’m valedictorian and I don’t know how to drive, I’m so bad at cooking I’ll burn water, and I wrote this speech at midnight the day after I was supposed to submit it. If grades were an absolute indicator of success and potential, none of that should be true!

I know this advice might come across as condescending coming from the valedictorian, Flinn Scholar, etc., and I don’t want it to. If you feel that way, that means my message hasn’t reached you yet. At the end of the day, I’m someone who enjoys the company of his friends, someone who wants a well-paid and fulfilling job, but doesn’t have the clearest idea of how to obtain that; someone who wants happiness, someone who gets absolutely stressed out over testing and public events such as tonight. I just happen to do well in a classroom setting, and if you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you put forth your best effort.

I’m not here to devalue the concept of grades. If good grades and a college education are what you need to be successful, then absolutely go for it. I encourage you to do so. That being said, that can’t show every amazing quality you have. To those of us who are not college-bound, I’m sure we envy that you have a plan for life that doesn’t involve another four years of this, but now with massive student loan debt. To those of us that are college-bound, take what I said to heart, and remember, C’s get degrees! I mean, you are not defined by your grades.

Congratulations Class of 2019! I wish you all the best in your endeavors.

This address appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Jim Headley

Maricopa High School saw more than 400 seniors cross the stage Thursday as the Class of 2019 graduated in a ceremony at Ram Stadium. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman was the keynote speaker. The graduates also heard from Student Boy President and salutatorian Alexis Jackson and valedictorian Chandler Chang.

Photos by Victor Moreno and Jim Headley

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People show up in droves for the Maricopa High School graduation ceremonies, filling parking lots quickly around the campus.

This year, graduation is Thursday starting at 7:30 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m. To avoid traffic and parking congestion, Maricopa Unified School District is offering a shuttle service from two of its schools to the football field.

Parking will be available at Butterfield Elementary, 43800 W. Honeycutt Road, and Saddleback Elementary, 18600 N. Porter Road, starting at 6 p.m. Parking signs will be posted. Shuttles are scheduled for every 20 minutes.

Among Maricopa high schoolers graduating this week are Nina Sarappo of Sequoia Pathway, Nancy Saldana of Maricopa High School, Britney Garcia-Coyolt of SPA and Nathan Wallin of MHS. Photo by Victor Moreno

The Class of 2019 at Maricopa High School and Sequoia Pathway Academy is filled with many goal-oriented, career-minded individuals. Learn about just a few of them as they prepare for graduation. 

Jonathan Aguilar. Photo by Victor Moreno

Jonathan Aguilar
An MHS senior, Aguilar has been a student-athlete and taken college-level classes to prepare for his next step. “My high school career has gone by so fast, and I have accomplished a lot.”
Years in Maricopa: 8
Originally from: Downey, California
Career goal: Civil engineering
Self-made advantage: I have taken dual-enrollment classes the past couple of years.
Work/internship/volunteerism: I work at The Duke golf course and I volunteer with Link Crew at Maricopa High School.
High school achievement: My greatest achievement would be having good grades throughout high school and playing varsity sports (golf and baseball).
After graduation: I plan on attending Arizona State’s Ira A. Fulton’s Engineering School and study civil engineering and minor in finance.

Chandler Chang. Photo by Victor Moreno

Chandler Chang
The MHS valedictorian has been out front leading the band and taking tough classes to set himself up for a full-ride scholarship. “It’s an ongoing sense of fulfillment, every moment of every day. I have a whole community supporting me and encouraging me to succeed and excel. It’s like the entire student body and staff is with me in my highest moments, and even my lowest moments. I have made a name for myself and have built a legacy that will endure. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Years in Maricopa: 14
Originally from: Elk Grove Village, Illinois
Career goal: Mathematics/chemical engineering
Work/internships/volunteerism: Drum major of MHS marching band, Junior States of America, National Honor Society, part-time employee at McDonald’s
Self-made advantage: I have received the Flinn Scholarship, which provides me with a four-year, full-ride scholarship to ASU as well as professional connections and mentorship. At MHS, I have taken the most rigorous mathematics and science courses available, earning college credit through AP courses.
High school achievement: Becoming a student role model for MHS
After graduation: I plan to attend ASU to major in mathematics and chemical engineering and explore various research opportunities and internships. While I will always be on the academic grind, I also want to take time to have fun, socialize and enjoy my youth while I still have it.

Brian Forkum Jr. Photo by Victor Moreno

Brian Forkum Jr.
A member of National Honor Society at MHS, Forkum has already been involved academically with Northern Arizona University while staying in touch with his roots.
Years in Maricopa: 12
Originally from: Born in Mesa, but I grew up here. I call this place home.
Career goal: Become tenured professor in history and philosophy
Self-made advantage: I attended college at NAU for three summers through the Nizhoni (Navajo for “Beautiful”) Academy. I also interact with teachers and try to understand how they chose their careers and why.
Work/internship/volunteerism: I was an intern for Dr. Cindy Browder at NAU. I volunteer a lot in Maricopa, especially as an NHS member.
High school achievement: Personal growth, from a quiet freshman to a comfortable and self-assured senior.
After graduation: Continue studying, explore the world, meet new people and help others when I can.

Britney Garcia-Coyolt. Photo by Victor Moreno

Britney Garcia-Coyolt
Valedictorian of the Sequoia Pathway Class of 2019, Britney has had a very busy high school experience including earning certification in Medical Office Management. “I remember completing my exam and anxiously waiting for my results to come in and as soon as I saw my results I was completely ecstatic and so proud because all the hard work that had paid off.”
Years in Maricopa: 17
Originally from: Maricopa
Career goal: Interventional radiologist
Work/internships/volunteerism: Two Internships at Sun Life Family Health Center
Self-made advantage: I currently attend Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology and I am in the Medical Assistant Program. CAVIT was a stepping stone to be able to get into the medical field and to be able to expand my knowledge. Thanks to that I have been able to complete two internships at the Sun Life Family Health Center here in Maricopa and I completely loved it. I am also currently dual-enrolled with CAC so that I can get ahead on some of my basic classes.
High school achievement: Personally, receiving my Medical Office Management Certification was the greatest accomplishment that I received during high school that I worked really hard for.
After graduation: I hope to be able to continue my education at ASU.

Alexis Jackson. Photo by Victor Moreno

Alexis Jackson
The salutatorian of the MHS graduates, Alexis has taken advantage of opportunities for medical training while staying involved in campus politics. “I am extremely blessed and thankful for the support from my friends and family who helped me obtain these achievements, I am eager to see what my career path and future hold.”
Years in Maricopa: 16
Originally from: Mesa, Arizona
Career goal: Nurse practitioner
Self-made advantage: While taking steps towards reaching my end goal of becoming a nurse practitioner, Maricopa High School has provided me with a Sports Medicine program and Athletic Training internship where I have gained insight into the medical field.
Work/internships/volunteerism: National Honor Society member, Student Body president, Student Council experience for nine years, athletic training internship, microbiologist (water quality) intern, ALA Girls’ State attendee, civil engineering job shadow
High school achievement: Earning the Wildcat Excellence scholarship that has paid all my tuition costs at the University of Arizona, as well as getting involved in my community through Student Council.
After graduation: I intend to major in nursing at the University of Arizona.

Brianna N. McVey. Photo by Victor Moreno

Brianna N. McVey
A relative newbie at MHS, Bree has interned with Maricopa Police Department to prepare for her chosen field and was also sent to Girls State. “I was proud to know that I was given such an amazing opportunity.”
Years in Maricopa: 2.5
Originally from: Born in California but lived in Peoria, Arizona.
Career goal: Work for the FBI or be a detective
Self-made advantage: Interning at Maricopa Police Department
Work/internships/volunteerism: I have worked with CopaCloset at MHS and local food banks, I am a captain in the JROTC program, a link leader and an MPD high school intern.
High school achievement: One of my biggest accomplishments is going to Girls State last summer.
After graduation: I am attending University of Arizona to study criminology.

Connor Paine. Photo by Victor Moreno

Connor Paine
With a goal of being a doctor, Connor is also an MHS student-athlete who wrestled his senior year and made it to state. “I was ecstatic because I had worked so hard for months to make it there and I had finally met that goal.”
Years in Maricopa: 7
Originally from: Champaign, Illinois
Career goal: Pediatrician
Self-made advantage: I have begun studying anatomy and physiology to gain a basic understanding of the human body before attending the University of Arizona, majoring in pre-physiology.
Work/internships/volunteerism: Two years at Barro’s Pizza as a cook and two years of volunteering through NHS for various community events
High school achievement: My greatest accomplishment in high school is qualifying for the AIA Division 2 State Wrestling Tournament my senior year.
After graduation: Attending the University of Arizona and majoring in pre-physiology. After college, I plan to attend medical school and become a pediatrician.

Nina Sarappo. Photo by Victor Moreno

Nina Sarappo
Sequoia Pathway’s salutatorian, Nina ingratiated herself with people working in political fields and took dual-enrollment classes starting as a freshman. “My reaction to finding out that I am salutatorian was rewarding myself by eating a whole box of Strawberry Pop-tarts.”
Years in Maricopa: 9
Originally from: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Career goal: Politics
Work/internships/volunteerism: I was treasurer for National Honor Society in 11th grade and our small group organized several volunteer and community-oriented activities. As a senior, I participated in the City of Maricopa internship program which granted me experience in local government.
Self-made advantage: Reading about political philosophy and history helped me shape my own beliefs about what needs to be changed in American government. Although certain ideas are subject to change or evolve, they certainly fuel my own passion to take a political career seriously. Throughout high school, I developed excellent connections with individuals involved in political predictions and reporting.
High school achievement: My greatest accomplishment in high school is graduating second in my class. I have been a dual-enrollment student with Central Arizona College since ninth grade, taking college classes along with high school curriculum and during the summers. Responsibilities and problems outside of the classroom did not hinder my dedication to education and schoolwork. Also, I was low-carb for three months: That was impressive.
After graduation: I will be attending Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University as a philosophy (morality, politics and law) major. I am eager to learn about the subjects that interest me at a higher level and refine my critical thinking and argumentative skills to prepare me for my career aspirations as a politician. Outside of school, I want to travel to Europe, specifically Albania, to reconnect with my heritage.

Nancy Saldana. Photo by Victor Moreno

Nancy Denise Saldana
Chairing the Youth Council, she pushed herself to be involved in school activities and the community at large. “It became my greatest accomplishment because ever since then every opportunity to be involved to serve, to show school spirit I took it and through that I gained close relationships with the community, staff and gained amazing friendships. It really gave me a reason to smile at school everyday.”
Years In Maricopa: I’ve lived in Maricopa for 7 years and love it
Originally from: Baja California, Mexico
Career Goal: My goal is to be happy in what I do everyday. I love being involved and talking to people so that’s why I’ve chosen to further my education in mass communications.
Work/internships/volunteerism: I’ve been a member of the Maricopa Youth City Council and Currently work as a respite and habilitation provider.
High school achievement: This last year I just made the decision to make it the best year it can be.
Self-made advantage: I’ve taken every opportunity around school or the city to use skills I would need in my future career such as promoting events, reaching out to others and have found local internships.
After Graduation: Straight out of high school I plan to serve a mission for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then attend a university to further my career in mass communications and media.

Kimberly Vega-Sanchez. Photo by Victor Moreno

Kimberly Vega-Sanchez
A member of the National Honor Society at MHS, Kimberly has turned her hard work in the classroom into scholarships. “It makes me proud to think that I’ve managed to work a busy schedule, get schoolwork done and volunteer in my free time while keeping my grades up.”
Years in Maricopa: 12 years
From: California
Career goal: Corporate lawyer
Work/internships/volunteerism: I’ve worked at Panda Express this past year and volunteer with the school’s National Honor Society.
High school achievement: Apart from the scholarships and awards, I would have to say my greatest accomplishment in high school has been having the ability to balance it all throughout these four years and seeing how my hard work has paid off.
After graduation: I’ll be attending ASU this fall to study at the W.P. Carey School of business. This will provide me the opportunity to receive internships, expand my connections, and learn the versatile fundamentals of business and legal expertise to help gain the knowledge needed to become a corporate lawyer.

Nathan Wallin. Photo by Victor Moreno

Nathan Wallin
As president of Junior State of America at MHS, Nathan became organizer and leader for community events, including political forums, for which he was awarded by the vice mayor. “I was so surprised to see myself up there with such amazing young leaders from our community but felt very gratified to be seen as a good member to our community and was able to tell people how thankful I was to be here and to listen to their stories and passions.”
Years in Maricopa: 8
Originally from: Spokane, Washington
Career goal: Traveling nurse
Work/internships/volunteering: I work at Copper Sky as a lifeguard and swim instructor.
Self-made advantage: I’ve done very good in high school in order to receive the top 10-percent scholarship for CAC, giving two free years of college, which is just enough to get me into nursing school.
High school achievement: Being one of the recipients of the first MLK Youth Dreamer Award presented to me by Henry Wade.
After graduation: I plan on expanding my knowledge of the world by meeting and talking to as many people as I can while attending CAC in the fall to purse a degree in nursing.

The MHS graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Ram Stadium. Valedictorian is Chandler Chang, and salutatorian is Alexis Jackson. The SPA ceremony is May 22 at 7 p.m. in its gymnasium. Valedictorian is Britney Garcia-Coyolt, and salutatorian is Nina Sarappo.

This article appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Graduation for the class of Maricopa High School Class of 2019 is set for May 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Ram Stadium. The valedictorian is Chandler Chang, and the salutatorian is Alexis Jackson.



MHS seniors not pictured:


Allen, JennaRae

Almanza, Nina

Anderson, Emily

Anguiano, Samantha

Antonio, Meladine

Arellano, Emily

Armenta Valenzuela, Joel

Beaumont, Shane

Benally, Dewayne

Cacpal, Alden

Carlyle, Mariah

Carrigan, Reilly

Castro Ramirez, Jose

Ceja, Gerardo

Chavis, Destinee

Diaz, Jorge

Downes, Keishaun

Dusenberry, Cheyenne

Edens, Julia

Enos, Elaina

Flores, Kayla

Forsyth-Ortiz, Shaylee

Fountaine, Arionna

Garcia, D’Andre

Garcia, Davin

Garcia, Doria

Garcia, Jalen

Garcia, Sean

Garcia, Serina

Gastelum, Jesus

Glover, Henry

Guerrero, Matthew

Guidry, Jada

Guillory, Camille

Guzman Bedoya, Luis

Hennigar, Paige

Hill, LeeAnthony

Huddleston, Jordan

Hughes, Nathaniel

Inscore, Tyler

Isaacs, Charles

Johnson, Jayla

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Jada

Jurado, Anthony

Justin, Earl

Kelly, Mackenzie

Keyack, Chloe

Khliu, Danny

Koenig, Christian

Lopez, Bethany

Luna Garcia, Karina

Maldonado, Elijah

Maldonado, Madison

Mariscal Torres, Edgar

Martinez, Albert

Mason, Sarah

Maxwell, Brendan

McAfee, Essence

McWilliams, Kassandra

Melendez, Cesario

Mendes-Castillejo, Anthony

Mullenix, Hunter

Muniz, Gabriel

Narcia, Aiyana

Narcia, Isaiah

Nieto, Alex

Ortega, Mario

Ortiz, Alberto

Partridge, Isaiah

Pearson, Stefon

Pepper, Averi

Perry, Bryce

Platero, Adela

Ramirez, David

Riley-Coleman, Tylen

Rios, Chelsea

Roberts, Fransico

Robinaugh, Warner

Rodriguez, Antonio

Ruiz, Angela

Salazar, Gabriel

Salter, Isaiah

Samayoa, Evan

Sanchez, Michael

Santana, Emily

Sauceda, Clarissa

Sauro, Seth

Schlueter, Broc

Serrano, Meyah

Sessler, Daylyn

Shaw, Ramia

Smith, Destry

Stanley, Chy’Anne

Swapshire, Angelica

Tapia, Brian

Thibault, Damon

Thomas, Dallas

Thomas Jr., Theodore

Tuggle, Maurtel

Tyler, Terrance

Vargas-Zavala, Lazaro

Vasquez, Xzavier

Vasquez Jimenez, Linda

Villegas, Leonardo

Viser, Zachary

Ward, Isiah

Williams, Aaron

Wright, Zhyia

Yarrito, Kye

Yarrito, Sensi

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Porter Jones. Photo by Victor Moreno

Class of 2018 Valedictorian Porter Jones delivered the following address at the Maricopa High School commencement.


Hello, Class of 2018 and guests! I am honored not only to be addressing the faculty, family and underclassmen around us, but also to get the chance to speak to you, my friends and peers, before we go our separate ways.

Now, I also know that I’m the last thing standing between you and a senior diploma, so I’ll try to keep my comments brief and to the point. As we all shift from side to side in our seats, wondering how much longer this can go, I’m sure that we’re all also thinking the same thing: Our actions this year have spoken louder than any speech or remark could adequately describe.

While there’s not much left to be said as far as academic achievement, extracurricular honors and sheer tenacity and grit at having finally “made it to the bell” go, we — the students, teachers and family members here tonight — have seen a tremendous amount of effort put forth in order for us to be better prepared for a world that can be both exciting and scary. With that in mind, I would like to offer some quick words of advice and comfort for those next years we have along the road.

I have noticed lately that no matter where you go, people seem to think that everything in life is out to get them. If we live with this sentiment, however, our entire lives are going to be the equivalent of a nail in search of a hammer — and that’s not much of a life, is it? No joy can come from pinning unhappiness on others. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” If the sky seems to be dropping anvils on you, find a way to build a ramada, or put those anvils to good use. “The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief,”* after all!

But some might be wondering, how can we ever expect to find satisfaction in a world with people who have different opinions than us? It is my belief that we can always treat anyone, no matter how annoying or backwards they might seem at one moment, with unfeigned charity and understanding, and still maintain our own ideals. Many wise people have noted that discussing beliefs builds faith in a cause and breeds understanding between individuals. There is nothing to fear from hearing another’s ideas. Still, remain passionate about things; never find yourself in a slump of self-doubt, because there are so many good things to live for.

We live in the greatest country of all: The United States of America. Two hundred and thirty-one years ago, a group of men drafted what has become the bedrock of our freedom and liberty. Always remember the sacrifices of others that are meant for us. This will not only help us decide the choices that remain in our lives, but also help us realize that our country’s well-being rests in our hands. I invite us to listen to George Orwell’s advice, which proclaims that “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Use your abilities to search for truth, and take great pride in living in a land where “a better tomorrow” isn’t just a buzzword. Take pride in living in the “land of the free and the home of the brave!”

Lastly, I cannot leave tonight without expressing my enduring gratitude for the many role models we have had to look up to in these four years and even further before. The material for any outstanding graduation speech has really already been given to us by the leaders, confidants and supports who have provided us with morality, affection and the best sermons: good examples.

I want to personally thank my close friends, teachers, family and God above for the many blessings that have been poured out on us these four years, and relish the thought that we are living here, now! We have infinite opportunity before us, and as we travel through life I hope we will always maintain optimism and enthusiasm for it.

And here we are, five minutes older, and still waiting for a conclusion; and here I am, still drawing out every second, since the moment I end this we will bid this campus good-bye for the last time. Don’t fret about what the future has in store for us — that’s how one dies an early death. If we remember time management, work ethic, respect, honesty, patriotism, compassion and living within our means, we will go far. I have faith in every one of you, as I hope you all have in yourselves.

Tonight, I would like to end by leaving the charge of making the best of all the time, relationships, means and talents you will find in life to you, as well as the capability to fulfill your purpose in life. Good night, Class of 2018, and God bless us all.


Porter Jones was the valedictorian of the Maricopa High School Class of 2018. Watch other highlights of the ceremony.

*(Othello by William Shakespeare, Act I, Scene 3)

This address appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

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Seniors gather in the gym before the graduation ceremony at Maricopa High School. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Graduation ceremonies for 356 graduates of Maricopa High School drew a standing-room-only crowd to Ram Stadium on Thursday. The students heard encouraging words from valedictorian Porter Jones (see a transcript in the June issue of InMaricopa magazine) and salutatorian Alessandro (Geo) Hernandez de la Pena, as well as Student Body President Favour Odubamowo. Twenty-one of the graduating seniors were members of the National Honor Society. See our growing gallery below (click photos to enlarge).

Photo by Victor Moreno

Sequoia Pathway Academy celebrated the graduating class in commencement exercises Friday night. More than 70 seniors graduated from the charter school as Mayor Christian Price was the guest speaker.  See senior photos of the graduates here.

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Alfred Abraham

The following is the address delivered by Maricopa High School co-valedictorian Alfred Abraham to the Class of 2017 on graduation night, May 25.

By Alfred Abraham

My name is Alfred Abraham and I am proud to be the co-valedictorian of the Maricopa High School Class of 2017. I was originally born in India and spent the first three years of my life in Singapore. When I was 3 years old, my family moved to the United States.

I started out with a lot of difficulties. I acquired the ability to speak in sentences significantly later than most kids, at the age of 5. I was placed in special education because of my difficulties in speaking and writing. Countless nights were spent, tears were shed and plenty of teachers were contacted to get me where I am today.

I have exceeded the expectations of most people, but the credit for that achievement doesn’t just go to me; it goes to my parents and my younger sister Freya who always urged me to aim high.

In my four years in Maricopa High School, I have had many great experiences. One such experience was the time when I played the piano for the Jekyll and Hyde school musical during my sophomore year. Music is something that everyone loves. Whether it be jazz, pop or rap, the beats that bring us together are just like MHS, that makes us RAMily.

Another such experience was the time when I joined a robotics team that showed what could happen when good minds collaborate. Like any group project, we didn’t know quite where we were going, but we did our best, and we finaled at competition. In my life I’ve seen this theme repeat: You don’t have to have all the steps planned out to get to success; you just have to keep moving.

Throughout my high school career, I also had access to great teachers who paid attention to my needs much more than they were required to while maintaining high academic standards. I was given no excuses, and no reasons to do anything but my best. Counselors like Mr. Veltrie helped me pick classes that were best for my abilities. Without the help and the encouragement of all these people, I would not be here today.

In all honesty, I am so grateful that Maricopa was my high school. Nowhere else will you find such a collection of caring, dedicated teachers and friendly students that welcomed me into what was our four-year home.  To all of you, too many to name who have said hello or answered my email, thank you.

Everyone who is going to receive their diploma right now knows the value of sacrifice. The principle of scarcity of resources is something that is emphasized repeatedly in economics courses. This principle applies to time since time is, after all, a scarce resource. There is only so much of it.

Students who want to get decent enough grades to graduate on time must use their time wisely. It must not be wasted on distractions. All of us who are going to receive our diploma know this to be true. We have had to give up time checking social media, playing video games or whatever else we would rather do in order to study for tests and do assignments. Why do we do this? Because we know that the payoff, a high school diploma, is a major stepping stone to success in life.

To reach this step we all have gone through our own hills and valleys. We have all broken down at one point or another. We have all felt unworthy and incapable. We all know the temptation to give up. I remember telling myself, “It doesn’t matter anyway. At least I’ve gotten this far.” If I had listened to myself, then I wouldn’t be speaking to you now. Through all the obstacles we faced we kept going. I would like to congratulate you all for doing what it takes to be here today.

But not all of us are here. There are some who gave up, who were overwhelmed. Even now, plenty of us are wondering what we will do, and how we will do it.

There is one lesson I have learned in my life: The word “impossible” is not in the dictionary of God. So anyone who is going through difficulties of any kind – students, teachers, parents and relatives, remember this: If you set the bar too low, you’ll never see what you can reach.

Graduating high school is not the end of our journey; it is merely the beginning. It is a milestone to greater achievements in life. I encourage everyone here to continue working hard and achieving. Everything you have accomplished and endured is something that will really help in the real world.

With that, I would like to congratulate the entire class of 2017 once more for their achievement.  I really am thankful to be the co-valedictorian of this graduating class!

Alfred Abraham is a co-valedictorian of the Maricopa High School Class of 2017. He will attend Arizona State University.

This speech appears in the June issue of InMaricopa, courtesy of Alfred Abraham.

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John Blodgett

The following is the address delivered by Maricopa High School co-valedictorian John Blodgett to the Class of 2017 on graduation night, May 25.


By John Blodgett

Good evening, Class of 2017. If you don’t know who I am, my name is John Blodgett. I would just like to note to the audience out there, that yes, the valedictorian does indeed have to write their own speech (without SparkNotes, I checked). When I asked my mother if I could just wing it, she said, and this is a direct quote mind you, “John, you are my very favorite son and always will be, so please don’t embarrass me.” So, I wrote this for her; and sorry Matt and Alex, there is always second place.

Tonight, is a special night. It is the end of our first chapter, and the beginning of the next one in our book of life. Since I know none of us read these days, it is like we are ending one Snapchat story and beginning the next one. In our time here at MHS, we have laughed, cried, and I’m pretty sure some of you thought going to Dutch [Bros.] was part of the curriculum.

Among us, we have a great number of accomplishments. Many of us competed at the state level in countless sports, multiple bands, orchestra and color guard. Some of us even qualified for nationals in DECA, theatre and Skills USA. On top of that, we even have a couple of state champions. Oh, and did you know we pulled in almost $7 million in scholarships? I mean we didn’t even need to take a 30-minute bus ride to some “better school” to do so! Also, I think we can all agree we are the best-looking class to graduate from MHS, just saying.

We could not have reached these accomplishments, however, without a great deal of support. I would like to thank all of our wonderful teachers who put up with us for four years, the administration for keeping the campus up and running, our school board, bus drivers, counselors, principal, coaches, janitorial staff, cafeteria staff, athletic trainer and, of course, our parents.

Although each of us got here because of our own hard work, I think everyone who supported us along the way deserves a round of applause.

Now, however, those times have come to a close. We will be off in many different directions to do many different things. Personally, I will be flying 2,467 miles away, to the United States Military Academy, better known as West Point.

As Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” So first, shout out to all our mothers for doing step one. The next is a little harder.

During my summer visit to West Point, I determined it was my calling to go there. In four years’ time, I will be commissioned as a United States Army Officer. That is the beginning of my purpose, to protect our country, and support my community. There is no cookie-cutter way to find your purpose in life, though. You must go out and find it.

With that being said, I leave you with a challenge: No matter what your purpose ends up being, go out and make the world a better place. I know you can do it. Everyone in the stands knows you can do it. All that is left is for you to believe you can do it. When you believe in yourself, anything is possible, and I expect some great things to come from Maricopa’s Graduating Class of 2017.

Congratulations to each and every one of you. Good luck, have fun, and Go Army! Beat Navy!

John Blodgett is a co-valedictorian of the Maricopa High School Class of 2017. He will attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

This speech appears in the June issue of InMaricopa courtesy of John Blodgett.

Photo by William Lange

The Class of 2017 will soon complete their high school journey this week as they walk across the stage, receive their diplomas and turn their tassels. Seniors from Maricopa High School graduate Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Sequoia Pathway Academy graduates will attend commencement the Friday at 7 p.m.

Maricopa High School Commencement Preview:

MHS Seniors will first hear an address from Principal Renita Myers, before Mayor Christian Price and Ak-Chin Chairman Robert Miguel speak to the crowd.

Student Body President Lillian Chitwood will act as master of ceremonies and perform a brief welcoming speech to her fellow seniors.

Following Chitwood will be speeches from Salutatorian Rachel Blakely and Co-Valedictorians John Blodgett and Alfred Abraham.

Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey and Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory will lead military honors.

A moment of silence will be held for students Luis Garcia and Logan Jones. Garcia was killed in a car accident on Interstate 10 in 2015. Jones died in April after health complications with the influenza B virus. The commemoration will be led by Alicia Garcia.

Retiring Guidance Counselor Larry Veltrie will introduce exchange students, and then the MUSD Governing Board and administration will present graduates with diplomas.

Sequoia Pathway Academy HS Graduation Preview:

Principal Nathan Lamma will welcome seniors and their families Friday evening before a series of honors are introduced by Dean of Students Justin Price, Central Arizona College and the Dorrance Scholarship.

Pathway will hear from Valedictorian Hailey Cantrell, and afterward, Lamma will return to the stage for his final address to seniors.

The commencement nears the end when school administrators present the students with diplomas, but their future is just beginning as Lamma will officially announce the Class of 2017 as high school graduates.

Graduations and water play are part of this week's activities in Maricopa.

High school graduations and other school advancements are slated for this week in Maricopa. Below, Brad Pitassi of Maricopa Fire/Medical Department talks about the fun Water Safety Day coming up Friday. For details on these and other listings, visit http://www.InMaricopa.com/Calendar/.



Color Me Calm adult coloring class is at 12:30 p.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road.

A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Maricopa Community Church, 44977 W. Hathaway Ave.



Coffee with Friends of the Maricopa Library is at 1:30 p.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road.

Maricopa Police Explorer Post Meeting is at 5 p.m. at Maricopa High School, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.

Celebrate Recovery Coffee & Karaoke is at 5 p.m. at Maricopa Community Church, 44977 W. Hathaway Ave.

Veteran Affairs Committee is at 6 p.m. at Maricopa City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza.

Youth Council meets at 6 p.m. at Copper Sky Multigenerational Center, Multipurpose Room A, 45345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

8th Grade Unification Ceremony is at 7 p.m. at Maricopa High School, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.



Trip to a Diamondbacks Baseball Game leaves at 11 a.m. from Copper Sky Multigenerational Center, 44345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Harrah’s Club 777 Toastmasters meets at 3 p.m. at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, 15406 N. Maricopa Road.

Public Hearing Officer convenes at 5 p.m. at Maricopa City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza.



Lapsit for ages 0-12 months is at 9 a.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road.

Movers & Shakers for ages 1-2 years is at 9:30 a.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road.

Li’l Explorers for ages 2-3 years is at 10 a.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road.

A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Ak-Chin Social Services, 48227 W. Farrell Road.

Maricopa High School Graduation is at 7:30 p.m. at Ram Stadium, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.



The fifth annual Water Safety Day is at 4 p.m. at Copper Sky Aquatic Center, 44345 W Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Strength & Hope Al-Anon Meeting is at 7 p.m. at Community of Hope Church, 45295 W. Honeycutt Ave.

Sequoia Pathway Academy Graduation is at 7 p.m. at Sequoia Pathway Academy, 19287 N. Porter Road.



A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at Maricopa Community Church, 44977 W. Hathaway Ave.


As announced by the City of Maricopa, the northbound lanes of 347 from Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway to Honeycutt Road will be closed because of construction beginning at 8 p.m. through May 25.

The Maricopa Unified School District eighth grade unification/graduation ceremony will be held on May 23 at Ram Stadium and the event will dismiss after 8 p.m. The high school graduation is May 25.

People attending graduation who need to go north of the train tracks afterward are advised to go south on State Route 347, east on Farrell Road, and north on Porter Road to cross the tracks.

Some of Maricopa's "super seniors" are (from left) Nikolas Mase, Tyler Curtis, Pamela Crabajales, Abigail Paternina, John Blodgett, Diamond Sims, Aisawan Chanpraphap, Marina Vasquez and Carlos Venegas. Photo by Victor Moreno

The class of 2017 at Maricopa High School and Sequoia Pathway Academy is filled with many goal-oriented, career-minded individuals. Learn about just a few of them as they prepare for the commencement of their next steps. The MHS graduation ceremony is scheduled for May 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Ram Stadium. Co-valedictorians are Alfred Abraham and John Blodgett. Salutatorian is Rachel Blakely. The SPA ceremony is May 26 at 7 p.m. in its gymnasium. Valedictorian is Hailey Cantrell. Salutatorian is Anali Warner.


Alfred Abraham

Alfred Abraham (submitted photo)

Born in India and raised his first three years in Singapore, Abraham is the co-valedictorian of Maricopa High School’s graduating class. Considered to be “Special Ed” early in school, he has since been the academic leader of the Class of 2017 all through high school, with his career sights set on biomedical engineering.

Years in Maricopa: 11
Originally from: India
Career goals: Engineer

Accomplishment: Member of a team that placed eighth out of 24 in a Vex Robotics competition with limited time and resources to prepare compared to other teams.

Reaction: I was initially surprised. For much of the competition, my team was doing just average; it stayed at 12th place out of 24. But then, after the last three or four rounds, we ended up in eighth place. Immediately after a moment of surprise, I felt happy. The skill of my teammates was a key factor in our success, and I was proud of what we accomplished. This prepared me for the workforce as Vex Robotics promotes the development of scientific and mathematical skills, skills that are essential for engineering.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I will attend ASU in August in order to get at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering. While in college, I will do internships in my specific field, biomedical engineering, that will give me some career-related experience. I also aim to get a part-time job around Maricopa after my graduation so I can get some experience in the workplace.


Rachel Blakely

Rachel Blakely (submitted photo)

A long-timer by local standards, Blakely has been a Maricopa resident since kindergarten and is now the salutatorian of her class at Maricopa High School. As a freshman she was already taking junior-level math and tackled senior-level math as a sophomore, setting herself on the path to a career.

Years in Maricopa: 13
Originally from: Mesa
Career goal: High school math teacher

Accomplishment: Being two years ahead in math

Reaction: Proud of my hard work and realized it was something I wanted to do in my life after high school.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? Attend University of Portland and major in secondary education and mathematics, hard work, determination and dedication.


John Blodgett

John Blodgett. Photo by Victor Moreno

A co-valedictorian at Maricopa High School, Blodgett is a cadet major in the Air Force Junior ROTC program, Link Crew leader, National Honor Society member, teacher assistant, Robotics team member, member of cross country and track teams and a member of Si Se Puede Foundation. He received two military academy appointments and chose West Point.

Years in Maricopa: 12
Originally from: Phoenix
Career goal: U.S. Army officer

Accomplishment: Receiving appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point

Reaction: I was very excited! Knowing that all of my hard work in high school had gotten me accepted to one of the best schools in the country caused great joy to surge through me.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I plan on continuing to strive for my goals by trying to be the best I can in everything I do, while at the same time helping others do the same.


Hailey Cantrell

Hailey Cantrell (submitted photo)

Cantrell is the valedictorian at Sequoia Pathway Academy. A member of the National Honor Society, she has been on every Principal’s List throughout high school. She completed two college English courses and a child development course and has been a mentor. She will attend Grand Canyon University and plans to return to PSA as an assistant Student Council advisor.

Years in Maricopa: 7
Originally from: Newport Beach, California
Career goal: Teacher, administrator, professor

Accomplishment: Student Council president for two years

Reaction: We all went through our speeches, and when I finished everyone smiled. It made me happy because I was elected to lead and better our school.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I will continue to stay organized, responsible and not give up. Also, this career is what makes me happy. I just want to help students; I want to teach them valuable lessons. 


Aisawan Chanpraphap

Aisawan Chanpraphap. Photo by Victor Moreno

Chanpraphap’s family moved to the United States when she was 7 years old and moved from Virginia to Maricopa when she was in fifth grade. A gifted art student at Maricopa High School, she also runs cross country and track.

Years in Maricopa: 7
Originally from: Thailand
Career goal: Art teacher

Accomplishment: Won second place at Art on the Veranda against professionals

Reaction: I went to help out at Art on the Veranda expecting it to be the same as last year, where all I did was help sell art pieces, but during the early morning session I noticed a judge circling around my art piece and examining it. I did not want to get my hopes up so I kind of pushed it to the back of my mind, to the point that I actually forgot about it altogether. So it came as a big shock when the judge came back around and told me to go get my ribbon in front of a small crowd!

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? Attend NAU majoring in art education in the fall, and once I am more financially independent I would like to attend an actual art school, preferably The Art Institute of Chicago.


Pamela Crabajales

Pamela Crabajales. Photo by Victor Moreno

Crabajales has been involved with a number of institutions around town, from Youth Council to Maricopa Police Department, while being a member of the National Honor Society and DECA at Maricopa High School. She is a Link Crew leader and school newspaper editor.

Years in Maricopa: 7
Originally from: Philippines
Career goal: United Nations nurse

Accomplishment: Having the opportunity to volunteer with the different organizations in Maricopa. It led me to find my passion in helping to serve others.

Reaction: One day that really stuck out to me was when I was volunteering for Against Abuse Inc. with their latest gala. That night I saw how much the cause meant a lot to people and I felt like I was a part of something great. I realized how much I enjoyed giving back to my community.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I plan on taking steps before leaping to my main goal of being a United Nations nurse by attending college and later specializing in forensics so that I gain plenty of experience and help plenty of people along the way. 


Tyler Curtis

Tyler Curtis. Photo by Victor Moreno

Curtis has grown from being the Maricopa Unified School District spelling champ in elementary school to a virtual repertory actor in four plays a year. She will attend a private conservatory in New York City.

Years in Maricopa: 7
Originally from: Denver, Colorado
Career goal: Broadway performer

Accomplishment: Cast as Madame Thenardier in “Les Miserables”

Reaction: It was my favorite role out of the 12 I’ve been able to do at MHS.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I’m attending the American Musical and Dramatic Academy to pursue musical theatre to continue my training.


Nikolas Mase

Nikolas Mase. Photo by Victor Moreno

An accomplished singer and actor, garnering scores of Excellent and Superior in state competition, Mase came to Maricopa High School from Legacy Traditional School.

Years in Maricopa: 5
Originally from: New York
Career goal: Broadway performer and theater teacher

Accomplishment: Playing Javert in “Les Miserables”

Reaction: I was ecstatic. Javert has been one of my dream roles, and I was amazed that I had the opportunity to portray his character as a high schooler.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I am planning on pursuing an education in musical theatre. After getting the training I need, I am going to move to New York and start auditioning for shows on Broadway. After obtaining my degree I would also like to become certified to teach theatre so I can continue to inspire students just as my high school theatre teacher inspired me.


Karla Orci Vega

Karla Orci Vega (submitted photo)

Orci Vega is on track to earn two nursing certificates through CAVIT by her Maricopa High School graduation. Also a softball player, she is planning to earn her master’s degree in nursing, taking her next educational step at Central Arizona College.

Years in Maricopa: 11
Originally from: Tempe
Career goal: Nurse practitioner

Accomplishment: Getting accepted into the CAVIT Nursing Program

Reaction: I got a letter in the mail telling me I was accepted into the program. I felt relieved because it was a huge step in the right direction for me. It made me feel excited as well because it would help me determine if nursing would be the right career for me.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals going forward? I will be attending CAC in Maricopa. Then I will transfer to ASU and finish school there.


Abigail Paternina

Abigail Paternina. Photo by Victor Moreno

A child of immigrants, Paternina took several AP classes at Sequoia Pathway Academy after advancing from Leading Edge Academy, received a class poetry award her junior year and was named Homecoming queen this year. She will attend Northern Arizona University.

Years in Maricopa: 11
Originally from: Clifton, New Jersey
Career goal: Cultural studies

Accomplishment: Full-ride scholarship to NAU

Reaction: I still recall the utmost joy I felt upon receiving the admission call that fateful day in November. I was home alone and could not stop thanking the admissions officer after she told me, and upon my parents’ arrival home, could not stop the beam that overtook my features when telling them the news of my admission.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I plan on achieving these goals by applying and pushing myself toward excellence and beyond boundaries in college, and by exposing myself to new opportunities by putting myself out there. After university, I plan on joining the Peace Corps and embarking on a two-year mission abroad in Colombia, in order to give back to my parents’ home country, which I would be nothing without.


Diamond Sims

Diamond Sims. Photo by Victor Moreno

Sims came to Maricopa High School as a freshman and soon set a goal to obtain a master’s degree in law. Wanting to do that as soon as possible, she attended summer school to put her on the path to graduating a year early and will attend Arizona State University.

Years in Maricopa: 3
Originally from: Joliet, Illinois
Career goal: Criminal attorney

Accomplishment: Completing two classes of summer school to qualify for early graduation

Reaction: During the last day of my summer classes I was anxious and relieved because I knew the following summer I’d be getting ready to go to college to finally start my dream career.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals going forward? I’ll complete 10 years of schooling and within the first eight years I’ll do internships to build up my skill to become a criminal lawyer.


Robinson Torres

Robinson Torres (submitted photo)

An honor roll student at Maricopa High School, Torres is a nursing program student in CAVIT, helping at a clinic in Sacaton. He has worked blood drives and helped feed needy children. He will attend Central Arizona College.

Originally from: Brooklyn, New York
Career goal: Physical therapist/sports medicine

Accomplishment: CAVIT Clinics

Reaction: The CAVIT clinics helped people. It was heart-warming and breath-taking.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? Going to CAC for two years, thanks to my Promise to the Future, then I’ll transfer to a four-year university that specializes in my desired profession. Most important part to achieve my goal is hard work and dedication.


Marina Vasquez

Marina Vasquez. Photo by Victor Moreno

Vasquez leaped two grades to graduate early from Sequoia Pathway Academy, where she took four AP courses, has a 4.3 grade point average and is a member of the National Honor Society. She used online courses to teach herself quantum mechanics. She will attend Arizona State University Barrett Honors College.

Years in Maricopa: 11
Originally from: Southern California
Career goal: Professional puzzle solver (aka mechanical engineer)

Accomplishment: Graduating two years early

Reaction: The day that it sunk in I was graduating at 15 was the most excited (and terrified) I had ever felt. The sense of accomplishment was so outstanding that all my fears were set aside because I had no doubt in my mind that this was the best choice that I could have made.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I put my heart and soul into everything I do, and my biggest goal throughout college is to keep that passion and find ways to showcase it in my work. I believe grit and work ethic are the two deciding factors for success and I will strive to carry these traits with me in order to help achieve my career goals.


Carlos Venegas

Carolos Venegas. Photo by Victor Moreno

Venegas came to Maricopa High School his sophomore year and has been heavily involved in the MHS Theatre Company, landing leads in “Les Miserables” and “Beauty & the Beast,” and also playing community theater. He will attend the University of Arizona.

Years in Maricopa: 3
Originally from: Salt Lake City, Utah
Career goal: Musical theatre

Accomplishment: Achieved highest score of “superior” for solo in Central Arizona Festival of Theatre

Reaction: I took “Bring Him Home,” so it was a song I was very familiar with. I just let all the practice take over and focused more on calming my nerves and making sure those didn’t take over in my song. … You just try to do the best you can do and wait for the results at the end of the day. It was definitely a really good experience, though, connecting with other schools and competing.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? An actor’s job is not to act but to audition, because you do so much more auditioning than you do performing. So I’ve worked a lot on auditioning with everything I have and being able to display the best me talent-wise that I can put forth. So I’ve been really working on that and hopefully that will help me reach that end goal of being able to perform hopefully for the rest of my life.


Anali Warner

Anali Warner (submitted photo)

Warner is the salutatorian of Sequoia Pathway’s Class of 2017. She will attend Northern Arizona University on a Lumberjack Scholarship. Though her major is undecided, she would like her abilities channeled into community service.

Years in Maricopa: 4
Originally from: Racine, Wisconsin
Career goal: To be well-informed, comfortable and active in helping others in whatever I do.

Accomplishment: Inducted into National Honor Society

Reaction: Joyful and motivated. Being able to achieve such a high award made me realize that I am capable of achieving whatever I strive for and that I am capable of greatness.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals? I plan on attending college and going on to higher education in the future. I intend to get involved in my community and activism, to improve others’ well-being and my own. I also plan on joining committees and social groups that coordinate with my future career, goals and interests.

This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Nicholas Sherrod took the road less traveled to earn his high school diploma. Photo by Mason Callejas

A Maricopa man has at last earned his high school diploma with the help of a program recently created by his employer – McDonald’s.

Nicholas Sherrod, 20, dropped out of Maricopa High School three years ago, and now, with the help of a new program at his work, he was finally able to get his high school credentials.

Born in Everett, Washington, Sherrod moved with his parents to Maricopa when he was 14. Both were managers at a McDonald’s in Washington and relocated to the Phoenix area to help with several new locations.

While attending MHS, Sherrod got a job at a Maricopa McDonald’s locations almost as soon as he was eligible to work. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for him to begin to struggle with his work schedule and keeping his grades up.

“School wasn’t really for me,” Sherrod said. “It got to the point where I was getting bad grades but I passed every test I got.”

Sherrod’s problem wasn’t attendance or exams; it was homework. He would never complete his regular homework due to his busy work schedule.

After struggling for a few years to fit the typical high-school mold, Sherrod decided to leave the dream of a diploma behind and embrace the reality of work and the steady income it provided.

Fast-forward three years. After he worked his way around several McDonald’s locations and toyed with the idea of returning for his diploma, Sherrod’s fiancée, Kayla, successfully convinced him to go and get it. After spending a brief time with another online diploma program, he learned about the Archways to Opportunities program, launched in early 2016, and knew instantly it was right for him.

Photo by Mason Callejas
Photo by Mason Callejas

Through the program, McDonalds offers eligible employees a free online high school diploma through Career Online High School, not a GED.

His experience through the Archways program was considerably better than his previous online school experience. The teachers, he said, were much more involved, calling and emailing multiple times a week. This accountability Sherrod believes created a better, more thorough, learning environment.

“They don’t let you wait until the last minute,” Sherrod said. “They cut it up so you don’t get behind.”

At the time of Sherrod’s exiting from MHS, there were not many options for people like him. Now, as the Maricopa Unified School District ramps up its recently founded alternative learning program – The Ram Academy – Sherrod feels he “probably” would have benefited from the program.

“I’m just glad that people will have the opportunity now,” Sherrod said.

Getting his high school diploma is not the end of the road for Sherrod, by far. Currently he is engaged to be married, and is in the process of buying a home. After settling in he hopes to get his real estate license and become an agent.

Archways spokesperson Katy Reeves said the program is designed to help employees move up and out into other industries.

“McDonald’s knows they are going to lose really great people and they’re OK with that because they want to help them reach their goals,” Reeves said.

In barely a year, the program has helped more than 200 McDonald’s employees in Arizona, and has invested nearly $200,000 in the program.

The Archways to Opportunity Program also offers eligible employees, those with nine months of employment, the chance to learn English through the English under the Arches program, college tuition assistance and an advising service to help their employees achieve their goals.

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A record 59 seniors graduated from Sequoia Pathway Academy on Thursday night in a packed gymnasium. Emma Mastel was the valedictorian of the Class of 2016. Andrew Helm was the salutatorian. Helm and Brendan Onquit also received their associate’s degrees from Central Arizona College.

Maricopa High School graduates take their places at Ram Stadium. Photo by William Lange

Maricopa High School may have had its largest class of graduates ever on Thursday night, but a crisp pace had the 336 seniors tassel-turned and back with friends and families relatively quickly.

The stands on both sides of Ram Stadium were filled as the crowd heard from seven speakers on a fine night.

Maricopa High School Graduation is May 19 at 7:30 p.m. Speakers include Robert Miguel (submitted photo), Christian Price (photo by William Lange), Savannah Hull (photo by MHS Digital Photography), Siena Garcia (photo by MHS Digital Photography) and Principal Renita Myers (InMaricopa file photo).

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.”

Maricopa High School graduation starts at 7:30 p.m. on May 19 at Ram Stadium.
Other speakers:
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.”

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.

“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.