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Las Vegas Valley grads ready for ‘new chapter’ after surviving pandemic

Jayden Bird, a Green Valley High School grad-to-be, was outside the Thomas &Mack Center in her bare feet Monday after her shoes broke. She was waiting for her mother to quickly bring her some new footwear so the teen could walk across the stage for her diploma.

Moments before her mom, Jenna Bird, 38, arrived from the parking lot bearing new pair of shoes, Jayden, who intends to pursue a psychology major at University of Nevada, Reno, said she had “mixed feelings” about graduating.

“It’s a little stressful, but exciting at the same time,” she said, adding that her cousins and other family members planned to celebrate over dinner after the 6 p.m. graduation ceremony at Thomas &Mack.

Green Valley High and Durango High seniors in their traditional caps and gowns attended different ceremonies Monday on the floor of the more than 18,000-seat arena as parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends watched and could be heard cheering intermittently as names of grads were announced one by one.

In the hallways and outside, many people hugged, some teary-eyed, while others carried bouquets of flowers and floating metallic party balloons.

‘It’s just like it’s so quick’

Some kids like Jayden expressed mixed feelings, others said they were still processing it all, having had the burdens of their high school years lifted and now preparing for the future, which, for most, is college.

“Honestly, right now, my reaction is nowhere even like how my brain is able to even to go with it,” said Aleksandar Benov, 19, a Durango High graduate following his school’s afternoon ceremony.

“It’s just like it’s so quick, it already happened,” said Benov, who plans to study computer science at UNLV. “But I feel like it’s a proud moment to say that I’m ready for a new chapter in life and just ready to go at it.”

Anthony Lopez, 18, another newly minted Durango grad, had mixed feelings.

“I feel relieved and kind of going to miss this, the people that I had in my classrooms and the experiences throughout the year,” said Lopez, who intends to study locally to become an auto mechanic.

“There were good moments, there were bad times,” Lopez said. “I had a blast throughout the three years I was (there) in person.”

Lopez’s reference to three years was something the graduates of the two schools had in common, just like other Class of 2024 graduates, who spent at least a year at home via distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When she was a freshman, her COVID year was at home,” Jennifer Gaughan said of her Green Valley High graduating daughter, Ella, 17. “But the getting a chance to go back in and doing everything else, I think it was a good experience for both of us. She recovered well. She had some amazing teachers.”

Ella is readying herself for a move soon to Anchorage, Alaska, where she will study air traffic control, Jennifer Gaughan said.

Rayvon Bell, Jr., 18, who played right tackle and nose guard for the Durango football team, said he was “glad it’s done, but I got to move to college. I’ve got four more years left.”

Bell, who would like to one day go into construction management, has a big choice to make — which college to commit to playing football, including maybe Michigan and Arizona, with the decision resting in part on “scholarships,” he said.

‘It will all figure itself out’

Joseph Steidel, 17, another Green Valley graduate on his way to the ceremony, is going to move from Henderson to start work at the Colorado School of Mines with hopes of getting a degree in electrical engineering after taking many classes such as physics and math.

“I feel happy but also worried about the future,” Steidel said. “I’m a little worried about moving out in a couple of months, but I’m sure that it will all figure itself out.”

Tim Carr, 72. and Suzie Carr, 74, both Californians, were about to ascend the high set of steps to the Thomas &Mack to witness their granddaughter, Shannon Carr, 18, graduate formally from Green Valley High.

“It’s an exciting day; it’s gone by quickly,” Suzie Carr said.

“Her dad went to UNLV and her mother went to UNLV,” Tim Carr said.

As for Shannon, who is considering majoring in civil engineering or perhaps microbiology, she’s still mulling whether to accept an admission offer from Utah State University or to stay put and opt for UNLV.

“She had multiple schools looking at her, several acceptances,” Suzie Carr said.

‘Such a positive person’

Marie Rye, 53, the aunt of Durango graduate Hakeem Abdul-Karim, 17, said he persevered through a debilitating illness, and even though he missed classes to recover, he came back to graduate within four years, with an interest in social work.

“I’m very, very, proud because he’s overcome some adversity in his life,” Rye said. “He was very ill but he’s such a positive person. He’s just an amazing student.”

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on X.

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