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COVID-19 doesn’t stop graduation

Rio Rancho Cyber Academy Graham Zielinski gets his diploma during an outdoor celebration May 20. Kim Vesely photo.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — With diplomas in hand, after picking them up at their respective high schools last week, members of the city’s Class of 2020 head to the Rio Rancho Sports Complex this week to get photos of themselves with their graduation signs.

The latter opportunity was arranged by Mayor Gregg Hull and Deputy Mayor Bob Tyler, who sought area businesses’ financial contributions. Grads have Monday and Tuesday to take advantage of the photo opportunity, and then may pick up their signs Wednesday to display at their own homes.

Residents wanting to view the signs will be able to walk onto the field in groups of five or fewer during the viewing hours. Signs, collectively depicting the year 2020, will also be viewable for pictures from the multi-use trail on High Resort Boulevard and the corner of High Resort Boulevard and Ridgecrest Drive.

Viewing hours are Monday, noon to 8 p.m., and then 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.

Rio Rancho Public Schools has organized a “Community Cheer” event at 8:20 p.m. Wednesday, “Class of 2020 Day.” 8:20 p.m. is 2020 in military time.

Interested graduates will go outside in front of their homes and should expect to hear community cheers and cars honking their horns for them. Rio Rancho Public Schools will post congratulatory messages on social media that day, as well.

It’s official: Diplomas handed out

RRPS high schools celebrated graduations with drive-through diploma pickups.

May 20, Cyber Academy graduates received their diplomas between 9 and 10 a.m.

For four hours, 8 a.m. till noon, Rio Rancho High School graduates wound their way west on Loma Colorado Boulevard and into the staff parking lot, behind the school and stopped at the football fieldhouse. There they were handed their diplomas and allowed to hop out and get a photo taken near a 2020 marker.

Cleveland High School graduates, in vehicles with their families, wait for their turns to get their diplomas during the drive-thru diploma pickup at the school May 20. Gary Herron photo.

Also for four hours, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Cleveland High School graduates worked their way west on Cleveland Heights Road (formerly Laban Road) and into the student parking lot, then drove past the gym for their diplomas. Closer to the football field, they had a chance to pose for photos with a 2020 sign.

Starting at 1 p.m., Independence High

Independence High School graduate Marcos Padilla Chavez stands at the literal finish line with his diploma during the drive-thru diploma pickup at the school May 20. Gary Herron photo.

grads entered their school’s parking lot off Quantum Road, wound their way to the south side of the school, got their diplomas and a photo, and passed under a “finish line” archway.

It all began with 9/11 for these ‘Quaran-teens’

Rio Rancho High School’s graduates will find a 69-minute celebratory video on YouTube. It opens with what was probably the start of their lives: 9/11.

Photos from that day of infamy open the video, followed by an address by Gary Suson, a battalion chief for the Fire Department of New York and the official FDNY photographer at Ground Zero in the aftermath of that tragedy.

Coincidentally, he knew 2020 RRHS senior class president Quincy Sander, who interned at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Unfortunately, Suson was a recovering coronavirus victim, plagued with fatigue but willing to lend a few inspirational words to the Class of 2020 here.

“Your sense of normalcy is gone,” he said. “You are experiencing your own private Ground Zero … You’re understanding, unfortunately, the stress that’s involved with a national tragedy, like Sept. 11 … and not knowing what the next day will bring.

“The road ahead may be rough, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he concluded.

Another NYC man is on the video, Craig Dykers, who helped design the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Also coincidentally, he has two cousins at RRHS, including one graduating this month.

A Rio Rancho High School graduate waits her turn to pick up her diploma Wednesday at the school. In light of COVID-19 state restrictions, graduates were celebrated with drive-thru diploma pickup. Gary Herron photo.

Following the RRHS band’s rendition of the national anthem, the rest of the speakers on the video need no introductions. They include addresses from Sander, who said this year’s graduates are “pioneers for unprecedented events in history.”

Salutatorian Nastassia Martin cautioned, “More adversities will come our way,” but noted she knew her contemporaries — “Quaran-teens”— are resilient.

Encouraging words followed from coaches John Shepard, Jason Black and Scott Peterson.

The video may also be viewed on the RRHS Class of 2020’s Facebook page.

Flashback: Class of 2019

For the second straight year, Rio Rancho Public Schools’ overall district four-year graduation rate and those of all four high schools in Rio Rancho showed sharp gains, after the New Mexico Public Education Department released graduation rates last week.

The district’s cohort graduation rate of 89 percent for the Class of 2019 is the highest in the district’s history — and the highest in the state for large school districts (4,000 or more students).  The graduation rates for Cleveland High School (89.9 percent) and Rio Rancho High School (89.8 percent) are the highest in the state for large high schools.

Independence High School had a graduation rate of 55.6 percent, also an all-time high. Cyber Academy’s graduation rate for 2019 was 91 percent.

The most recently published national graduation rate, for the Class of 2017, is 84.6 percent. National graduation rate estimates for the Class of 2018 are approximately 88 percent.

Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools’ graduation rates for 2019 trailed two charter schools: College and Career High School (98.82 percent) in Albuquerque and Early College High School (93.73) in Las Cruces.

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