Most of the graduates at West Las Vegas High School’s graduation raised their hands Saturday when asked if they planned to pursue higher education.
And that’s exactly what commencement speaker Ralph Arellanes wanted to see.
At West’s graduation Saturday, 110 students got their diplomas, including 11 from the Family Partnership, in a packed Gillie Lopez Gymnasium.
Four valedictorians — Arcenio Garcia, Paulyette Perea, Krystle Tapia and Ben Vigil — were honored during the ceremony. The salutatorian was Jamie Mathis. All of them had to take advanced classes to get their high grade-point averages.
Each of the five gave speeches to the class, with Mathis starting out by expressing concern about the “uncertainty of the times,” noting the ever-rising gasoline prices.
Tapia called the four years of high school “the best years of our lives” and pointed to rituals such as waiting in a long line of cars to go to a fast-food restaurant, spending 10 minutes at the drive-through and then speeding back to West, barely making it to class. At the end of her speech, she announced that both of her parents, Linda and Hank Tapia, were retiring from education after more than three decades.
Vigil praised his uncle Robert Vigil, the former state treasurer, for his strength even when the “world has turned its back on you.”
“Family will be behind you when you are in need,” he said.
The commencement speaker, Arellanes, a 1980 West graduate who has been active in civil rights groups such as the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, told about how his siblings went on to higher education after graduating from high school.
“This school is responsible for who we are today,” he said. “It takes a village to raise a child. Here at West, we’ve always done that.”
He told the graduates that education is the most important thing they could do for themselves, especially now that prices were increasing for gasoline, food and other items.
Arellanes told graduates that they should never let their critics take them down. He recounted a time when he and his brother were collecting aluminum cans and others called them “trash pickers.” That depressed him until his father told him that he and his uncle also used to pick up cans. And both of them later became successful, Arellanes said.
The next time someone called him a trash picker, Arellanes said he responded, “I’m not a trash picker; I’m a businessman.”
During his speech, Arellanes touted the importance of West.
“Our history and heritage are so significant we should always maintain our own identity,” he said.
The graduation lasted around two hours, which Principal Gene Parson said was record time.