KINGMAN - Several high school seniors stood around art instructor Donna McCarthy Tuesday evening as she carefully ironed the final creases out of their blue gowns before the graduation ceremony began at Kingman Academy High School.
"Graduation means they're as ready as we're going to get them," said McCarthy, who has taught for seven years at KAHS. "It's a rite of passage and it's bittersweet. You worry about them and you want them to do well. Some are going to become doctors and some will be manual laborers after they graduate. To me, what they become doesn't matter. I just want them to be successful in their lives."
Munther Al-Thaher, 18, was one of the students holding his gown over his arm as he waited for McCarthy. Al-Thaher plans to attend Arizona State University to become a cardiologist. He began attending KAHS last year after moving here from Oman, a country in the Middle East, to spend a year with his uncle and aunt, Jamal and Eman Al-Khatib. The uncle is a cardiologist in Kingman.
"It's been different being here this year," said Al-Thaher, who left his family in the Middle East. "It hasn't been a culture shock, because I've lived all over the world. I liked it here because the school is small and everyone is much closer. But it's hard because I'm away from my family.
"I'm going to miss it, even though I've only been in Kingman a year. It was a good year - different, but in a good way."
Family and friends crowded into the gymnasium to see the ceremony, carrying multi-colored balloons, flowers and wrapped presents for their graduates. District Administrator Susan Chan said that of the 98 graduates this year, which is the school's 10th graduating class, almost 25 have attended school in the district since kindergarten. One hasn't missed a day of school since then.
Two graduates exceeded state-mandated Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) testing in all three required areas - reading, writing and science, said Chan. And this year's graduates contributed 8,640 hours of community service during their academic careers. They were awarded more than $600,000 in scholarships as graduates.
Betty Rowe, who founded Kingman Academy of Learning in 1994, spoke to the graduates about their futures. Rowe said that as they move ahead in life, they should always remember their high school friends, respect and love their families, and be responsible for their behavior and attitudes.
"I urge each one of you to be your own personal best," said Rowe. "Choose what makes you happy. Your career should be more than just a job. It should be a joy. You are fortunate to have choices, and the sky is the limit for you."
Before and after the ceremony, which included music by two students and several speeches, math teacher Claudia Finkbeiner paused to take "selfies" with the students who were leaving her this year and the teachers who have supported her work. Finkbeiner has taught at KAHS for six years.
"I'm proud, sad, very emotional and I feel like I've accomplished something with these students," she said. "As a teacher, you grow close to them and feel like they're your own children. I want their success and that's why I've pushed them so hard.
"This is a great night because it's what we as teachers work for. We're glad it's finally here."