Morenci Class of 2020 has unique ending for graduation ceremony

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: The 2020 grads did not get a few moments to unwind en mass, spraying silly string at one another and bouncing inflated balloons for several minutes, then gathering at mid-field for a group final farewell, and welcoming well-wishers onto the field, as had previous classes in Lawson Stadium.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

Editor’s Note: This article was unintentionally delayed due to the reporter’s computer being infected with a virus, requiring it to be serviced.

MORENCI – The Lawson Stadium field lights were in the off position for the long-ago scheduled commencement exercises May 22. A few days prior, the Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium front doors were locked on the evening the baccalaureate ceremony would have been held. Neither facility had the standing room only crowds of previous years. The two public events were victim of the current global health crises requiring no large gatherings, maintaining social distancing, and donning face masks in order to “slow the spread.”

Instead, the “top-tiered technology-based” Morenci High School had its’ 115th graduating class hold a virtual ceremony on the same date, with Class of 2020 members giving speeches, valedictorian Keanna Cortez and salutatorian Shaun Espinoza, as well as all school administrators and board members offering words of wisdom to the graduates. The keynote speaker was math faculty member and 2005 MHS grad Alexa (Zerwas) Aguilera.

“All have the potential and tools to make your wishes come true,” Principal Bryan Boling said during his closing comments. “As a small fish in a big pond, it is important to swim fast.”

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The Lawson Stadium home stands sat empty an hour before the long-ago scheduled Class of 2020 graduation ceremony May 22. In previous ceremonies, the stands were at near capacity at the same time. Instead, a virtual ceremony was held on the same date.

He announced stepping down from his 17-year position that caps a 30-year educational journey. Outdoor fireworks concluded the evening. The 2020 grads did not get a few moments to unwind en mass, spraying silly string at one another and bouncing inflated balloons for several minutes, then gathering at mid-field for a group final farewell, and welcoming well-wishers onto the field. Instead, their final group activity was parading through Morenci and neighboring Clifton earlier in the afternoon, escorted by area law enforcement officers and first responders, smiling and waving at onlookers.

However, several class members asked to have something more. Their request was granted. An on-campus “walk across the stage” in front of Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium was held the following evening. It was the opportunity for grads to attain what was missing. They wore their sense of accomplishment expressions in front of others. That is what had been missing.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Dominik Waters smiles as he waves to parade watchers as a prelude to the virtual graduation ceremony.

The 2020 grads disembarked vehicles one at a time in front of faculty members and emerged through an inflatable tunnel. The unique ceremony had 1973 MHS grad Roger Munoz playing Pomp and Circumstance on guitar as they headed out of the tunnel, and walked across an appropriately decorated stage. Their principal elbow bumped each and handed their diploma before posing for a photograph.

They received a “goodie” bag from class sponsors Marilou Cortez and Krista Mahan, and had a souvenir image taken with family members. Their most important supporters, those fitting in the same vehicle, were able to share the moment and pose for souvenir images.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Class valedictorian Keanna Cortez was handed her diploma by high school science faculty member and mother Marilou. The top student left school with membership in six honor societies.

In the previous ceremonies, at least since the school opened for the 1982-83 school year at the present site, the principal announced each soon to be alum before they stepped onto the stage, and board members handed out diplomas and posed for pictures.

“It will be something they’ll remember the rest of their lives,” Boling said. “No other class can say they had this, because of the (Covid-19) pandemic.”

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Jaelynn Seballos, left, waves to onlookers during the parade through Morenci and Clifton on May 22.

The Class of 2020 had 74 members, 44 boys and 30 girls, earn diplomas. The previous three classes exited with 84 in 2019, 86 in 2018, and 79 in 2017. The school’s initial class in 1906 had one grad, Myra Robinson.

Starting its final year of high school in late July, as penned by a class member on a personal parking space, the Class of 2020 was “running late but still on time” for the first day of classes.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Siblings Devin and Kayla Diaz pose with Principal Bryan Boling, after walking across the stage to receive their diplomas, on May 23. Two sets of twins, Conner and Madison Vaughn plus Aleeya and Tristan Williams, were also included in Morenci’s Class of 2020.

Their senior breakfast was prepared and ready, but eating utensils were overlooked and an unplanned delay ensued while that was remedied. They made it to their first hour classes before the session ended, running through a gauntlet of classmates, faculty members, friends, neighbors, and parents before beginning required individual class orientations.

The first, second, and third nine-week grading periods largely went as scheduled with fall and holiday breaks in between.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Jaylen Klockenga emerges through an inflatable tunnel and pauses to adjust his cap.

Prior to the start of the fourth quarter, the spring break was extended a week and their final weeks of in-class learning sessions were called off by the state governor. A final run through the halls, as they opened the year, to signify completion of their course of study, were among the events missed in that span.

Now, also as penned by another class member on a personal parking slot, “We out(ta) here.” That student initially ran out of paint and then out of time to complete the artwork and message.

Thirty class members left school as members of honor societies attained through grade point averages. One student left with six memberships, one with five, eight with four, four with three, 10 with two, and six with one apiece, as signified by cords, tassels, and hoods worn for the graduation ceremony.


Twenty-one class members were offered over $1.2 million in scholarships, three totaled a six-figure sum, 12 a five-figure sum, three a four-figure sum, and three a three-figure sum, to help realize their dreams.

Reona Kristine Alvarez: University of Arizona Wildcat Recognition Award, Sons of the American Legion Squadron #28 Scholarship, Deborah Armbrust Scholarship, and Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; Desiree Monique Babb: Tom Powers Family “All Wildcat” Scholarship and Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; Kaleena Meridian Carlin: Northern Arizona University Presidential Scholarship;

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Kayleigh Kolden waves to classmates as the parade through Clifton heads back to Morenci.

Keanna Louise Rezare Cortez: UA Distinction Award, Freeport McMoRan Scholarship, McWilliams and Rankin, and Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; Dante Jose DeAnda: NAU Presidential Scholarship; Mount Graham Regional Medical Center Medical Staff Scholarship, and Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; Shaun Dominic Espinoza: Sumitomo Scholarship; Reiyna Melani Nikole Frank: Grand Canyon University Dean’s Scholarship and GCU Award;

Mariah Lynne-Ann Gipson: New Mexico State University Scholarship; Anthony Joseph Rio Hudman: NAU Presidential Scholarship and Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; Jordan Izaiah Mares: Albion University Kreige Scholarship; Eastern Arizona Dean’s Scholarship, Fork of the River Award, and Dominican University of California Coaches Award; Malorie Nicole O’Gaffney: NAU Presidential Scholarship and MHS Tri-M Scholarship;

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Fireworks concluded the evening’s graduation ceremony, but it was held virtually rather than on the field.

Angel Renae Ontiveros: Sumitomo Scholarship, Tony Boling Memorial Scholarship, Cody Denogean Memorial Suicide Awareness Scholarship, and Greenlee County Historical Society Scholarship; Sarina Ja’Lee Robledo: Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; Steven Michael Roybal: Franciscan University of Stubenville Saint Elizabeth Grant, GCU Faculty Scholarship, NAU Presidential Scholarship; GCU Select Scholarship, GCU Award, and Cody Denogean Memorial Suicide Awareness Scholarship;

Brigid Marie Silverster: Creighton University Academic Scholarship, GCU Provost Scholarship, Benedictine University Athletic/Academic Scholarship, NAU Presidential Scholarship, GCU Select Scholarship, and George Lopez Memorial Scholarship; Conner Allen Vaughn: Montgomery GI Bill; Madison Lily Vaughn: NAU Lumberjack Scholarship and Morenci Lions Club Scholarship;

Domonik Anthony Vigil: NAU Presidential Scholarship, NMSU Scholarship, and Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; Matthew David Webb: UA Distinction Award and Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; Corrie Joy White: Morenci Lions Club Scholarship; and Aleeya Renae Williams: GCU Antelope Award and GCU Priority Registration Award.

Eastern Arizona College grads

Thirteen class members received Associate Degrees from Eastern Arizona College two weeks before receiving their high school diploma. Those members included Keanna Cortez with highest honors; Reona Alvarez and Shaun Espinoza with high honors; Desiree Babb, Dante DeAnda, and Angel Ontiveros with honors; and Kaleena Carlin, Mariah Gipson, Mallorie O’Gaffney, Jaelyn Danae Seballos, Madison Vaughn, Domonik Vigil, and Matthew Webb.

GIFT Program

Ten class members were GIFT Program (Gila Institute for Technology) completers: Marcus Scott Adams, Keanna Cortez, Reyna Frank, Cameron Domingo Bailey-Garcia, Thomas Carter Gray, Jaelyn Seballos, Ramsey Alexander Schenk, Ravyn Lynn Tison, Dominik Daryl Waters, and Matthew Webb.

Top 10

Morenci’s top 10 Class of 2020 members were Cortez (first), Espinoza (second), Webb (third), Ontiveros (fourth), Seballos (fifth), Alvarez (sixth), Babb (seventh), Madison Vaughn (eighth), Vigil (ninth), and Carlin (tenth).

Other 2020 Graduates

The class also included Angel Arrellin, Tayshaun Robert Blackman, Brandon Eric Blair, Carlos Antonio Bray, Dereck Christopher Castaneda, Casandra Eyvon Cocker, Alexander James Collazo, Travis Scott Cranford, Devin Derrek Diaz, Gabriella Alexis Diaz, Jesus Jose Diaz, Kayla Diaz, Jaylyn Rose Dosela, Calvin Dwayne Dunning, Zachary Nicholaus Esparza, Danielle Anesette Figueroa, and Brady Shane Friend;

Reve Marie Garcia, Dominick Paul Gonzales, Monica Chari Gonzalez, Matthew Patrick Harrington, Brandon Lee Jagles, Jaylen Daniel Klockenga, Kaleigh Lauren Kolden, Victor Daniel Q. Laborin, Maximus Gabriel Lagunas, Christian Alexander Lexa, Maria Elena Mendoza, Yrliani Ines Molina, Dejah Gabrielle Montoya, Rosealia Magdalena Munoz, Andrea Ester Navarrete, and Isaiah Rene Nofchissey;

Omar Jonathan Ortega, Lazaro D. Palomarez III, Katelyn Ann Pope, Philip David Provencio, Samuel Damian Puente, Rene Jeremy Ramirez, Ernesto Talavera, Zachary Ryan Waltrip, Kylie Brenae Wile, Tristan Joel Williams, Samuel Walker Woodard, Madalyn Marie Wright, and Nicolas Sabastian Zegarra Nunez.

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