BULLHEAD CITY — Twenty-five walked across the stage on Friday at the Academy of Building Industries’ Class of 2023 graduation ceremony at the Optimum Community Center, celebrating both the journey to graduation and their new lives afterward.

“This is the very first graduating class of kids that are known as the COVID kids,” said Superintendent Jean Thomas. “That’s an unfortunate title. But I want you to know that due to the worldwide pandemic, these kids worked harder, walked harder and they’ve earned their spot here tonight.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Teri Tomlinson, the vice president of program development at the BHHS Legacy Foundation.

“You made history. You should feel proud,” Tomlinson said. “When Jean Thomas asked me to participate at your graduating ceremony, I was truly blown away. I was also honored — but then I felt a little sense of panic. What would I say?”

Tomlinson nonetheless had what she described as “a few words of encouragement and support” to share with the recent graduates.

Her speech was sparked by advertisement she once saw in a magazine which read “going places” — an apt description of the Class of 2023, she thought. And she knew “going places” isn’t always easy.

“You are going places. I know, and you know it,” Tomlinson said. “…As you go out into the world, you will encounter obstacles, doubts and uncertainty. I certainly have.”

She said she hoped to give the Class of 2023 advice and support to take along the way, urging all the graduates to remember they are brave, strong and smart to overcome whatever challenges, fears and doubts they encounter.

“As you embark on this new chapter of your lives, I want to take a moment and reflect on the importance of chasing your dreams and recognizing the incredible strength that each of you have,” Tomlinson said. “… Strength is not just measured by physical ability, but the resilience of your spirit.”

Valedictorian Leilani Marcum recognized the journey to graduation wasn’t only due to their own strengths, but the support from teachers, families and mentors who helped her and her peers along the way.

“They have given us their unwavering support, guidance and encouragement to us on our journey. We owe them a debt of gratitude,” Marcum said.

In addition to their diploma, many students were awarded vocational certificates, given for putting in two years worth of work in a specific vocational field.

One student, Elizabeth O’Hara, was recognized for acceptance into Arizona State University. Another student was recognized for graduating two years early.

“There are many achievements here today and many honors, and this is our time to celebrate those things,” Thomas said.

Awards worth $25,000 were given to various students during the ceremony by the Kiwanis Club, receivable regardless of whether the student enters the workforce or continues to college.

Several scholarships were awarded from Mohave Community College, usable should the student wish to continue their academic career.

Three AOBI staff also “graduated” with their students. Clocks and farewell letters were presented to teachers Bob Risse and Glenn Jessen and Vocational Director Coy O’Kelley to celebrate their retirement.

Story by Mohave Daily News

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