Center Class of 2023 perseveres to earn diplomas


Photos by Brian Williams Center High School graduates pose for a photo prior to their graduation ceremony on May 27 at Center High School. Center High School graduates decorated their caps for their graduation ceremony on May 27 at Center High School. Center High School Valedictorian Cael Ruggles gives a speech during the graduation ceremony on May 27 at Center High School. Center High School graduates take a silly selfie prior to their graduation ceremony on May 27 at Center High School. Center High School graduates showed their appreciation to family and friends with hugs and flowers during the commencement ceremony on May 27 at Center High School.

CENTER — Center came together on Saturday morning to celebrate the 20 students graduating as part of the Class of 2023.

Seniors gathered on May 27 inside the Vikings gymnasium alongside hundreds of friends, family, and supporters to commemorate the academic success of the graduating students. Center High School Principal Nicole Neufeld led the recognition and presentation of the Class of 2023 alongside Superintendent Carrie Zimmerman and the Center Consolidated School District Board of Education.

The Class of 2023 listened to the salutatorian address from Kelly Gardea, who was also the senior class treasurer and recipient of $27,700 in scholarships. Gardea thanked her fellow graduates and the support of family, friends, teachers, and faculty.

“It has been a rewarding experience getting to know each and every one of you,” Gardea said. “But most of all I think about the incredible people I got to form these bonds with. I am thankful for the impact each has had on me. Today we are here to close one chapter of our lives and start a new one.”

Gardea touched on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Class of 2023 were just freshmen in the Spring of 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. At one point or another, these students dealt with virtual learning, precautions like masking and social distancing, isolating when sick, and felt the overall impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on their education. Despite those challenges, they bonded together through the shared experience.

“All of us have overcome unforeseen obstacles,” she said. “All of us have gone through ups and downs throughout the years. From experiencing the unknown of COVID, unspoken hardships and even losing loved ones. For those who have lost loved ones, just know they are the ones cheering the loudest for you today as you walk across the stage and receive your diploma. Everyone here has gone through difficulties, but we still made it to this day.”

Gardea wrapped up her address by asking her classmates to remember to “never be afraid to make be grateful for all the moments that brought us here. If you have a chance take it. Take it while you have the chance. And if you have dreams chase them, because a dream won’t chase you back.”

She plans to attend either Adams State University or Trinidad State College and study nursing.

The students then heard from the Class of 2023 valedictorian Cael Ruggles, who received $20,200 in scholarships and plans to attend Adams State University and study mechanical engineering.

Ruggles began by acknowledging the bigger things in life each graduate is looking toward and inviting the students to think about the people they would like to thank most for helping them grow and providing opportunities.

“I could not have asked for a better place to have grown up,” Ruggles said. “We are who we are because of the people we met, the teachers, the school, and this town; this is just beginning.”

Ruggles said playing sports and the lessons he learned on the field is something he will use in the future.

“There are things I learned in football that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” he said. “Whether you are big or small you get knocked down over and over again. Every time you get knocked down, you must get back up and go again. Don’t let the failures push you back. Don’t be afraid to fail, always get back up. Never let it keep you down.”

The Class of 2023 listened to the commencement address from Center Middle School Principal Linda Donaldson, who gave the commencement speech for this class four years ago. She talked about how the class had become a family and persevered.

“When things got tough you were able to lean on each other for comfort and support,” Donaldson said. “Whether it was during classes, athletic competitions, or just personal issues you always knew that your friends would always be there for you. You have also been there for each other's accomplishments — from continuing from middle school to high school you have all stuck together.

“There were so many obstacles that could have derailed you from your goal of graduating today, but here you are, and my heart is so very proud of all of you,” she said.

Donaldson told the Class of 2023 to not forget where they come from and to let their dreams lead them.

“Don’t be afraid of the unknown,” she said. “You can overcome any obstacle. You have unlimited opportunities in your future. Don’t let those opportunities escape you. Be proud, hold your heads up, and walk through those doors with all of the confidence and ability I know lies inside each of you.”

Next, the Class of 2023 received their diplomas and gave flowers to family and friends before returning to their seats for a slideshow of the graduates. Class President Jenice Almeida ended the ceremony with the tassel exchange that was followed by the throwing of caps into the air.