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Behind the scenes of graduation

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Seven students, male and female, dressed in their graduation attire walk in a single file line to the football stadium.As our GPS Family prepares to celebrate the class of 2023 and all of their success, we want to take you behind the scenes of the planning for our high school graduations. The process is lengthy, requiring a lot of time and preparation to ensure things go smoothly. Each of our high schools has graduation coordinators who oversee every detail. 

“I actually start in May of the previous year, so I’m already starting to plan stuff for the next one,” said Deann Perkins, the graduation coordinator for Desert Ridge High School, “This is my checklist. I have every single month with a checklist of things to do.” 

Perkins spends about a year putting all the logistics together. She works alongside Principal DJ Spetz and Assistant Principal Lance Smith. She also gets insight from members of the school’s Student Council. 

“We will nominate all of our Student Council representatives, and whoever is our president of the senior class, I set up an appointment with them in June to pick out the graduation announcements,” Perkins said. 

She works with the same vendor to help graduating seniors get caps and gowns, class rings, senior swag, diploma covers and more. Perkins is also responsible for finding vendors to do staging, chairs, landscaping, and the painting of the Jaguar head on the football field. 

“The earlier we get in, the better dates we have to choose from,” she said.

Traditions are a huge part of graduation. In recent years, Desert Ridge High has brought some old traditions back and started some new ones. The graduations were previously held at Arizona State University, but now they have returned to the school’s campus to be held on the football field.

“(Families) would go down there and it was a real quick thing. It was nice for parents, if they didn’t mind the drive and having AC, but you lose some of that personal atmosphere,” Spetz said.

A brown wreath with red roses and greenery wrapped in a black 'We Remember' ribbon sits in a chair at graduation.The return to campus allows students to go through a graduation rehearsal the morning of their big day. They line up in the school’s gym, practice their walk to the field, and get to run through the program. Another important tradition cherished by the students, families and staff is the “We Remember” wreath.

“It’s to remember and recognize anybody that they’ve lost during their time here as students,” Spetz said.

“And to recognize any graduates that we’ve lost,” Perkins added.

Traditions also carry on through the student speakers. The school has the traditional speeches given by the valedictorian and salutatorian, but they also have a special speech from the student recipient of the ‘Spirit of the Jag’ award.

“We have our staff and students get a chance to vote for ‘Spirit of the Jag.’ It is somebody who embodies what it means to be a Desert Ridge Jaguar and a lot of different people know. They get recognized at graduation by giving a speech,” Spetz said. 

Graduating seniors who are enlisting in the military are also recognized at the graduation ceremony.

“We will read a student’s name and if they are going into a branch of the military, then we will say the branch. You know just recognizing those kids and their decision to go out and serve,” Smith said. 

New traditions include the increased number of graduation stoles for students, recognizing their clubs and academic achievements. Desert Ridge High has also gone digital by turning their graduation program into a document accessible from any mobile device. Graduates still receive a hard copy of the program as a keepsake. 

A male teacher directs the orchestra in a stadium full of high school graduates and their famiilies.“We went digital last year, and it was a huge success,” Perkins said. 

This year’s graduation ceremony at Desert Ridge High will include a flag presentation by the Mesa Police Department. The school’s choir, band and orchestra are also set to perform. For Perkins, the event this year is extra special as her fourth child is preparing to graduate from the school. 

“I’m super proud of my kids graduating from here and being excited for that,” she said, “This is a once in a lifetime thing for these students and sometimes their parents. We just want to make it the best that it can be, the most memorable that it can be.”

To learn more about Desert Ridge High, schedule a school tour or enroll today!

Written by Kailey Latham, Photos: DRHS