KINGMAN - Rachel Mains couldn't hide the tears that welled up in her eyes Wednesday as her son entered the gymnasium at Kingman Academy High School as part of the graduation processional.
Mains, of Kingman, stood to the side and used her cell phone to videotape 18-year-old Ethan Mains as he entered the door in a blue cap and gown. Both smiled as they lightly smacked each other's hands in acknowledgement.
"I'm so excited tonight," said Rachel Mains. "And I'm so emotional. I've been waiting for this day for 14 years and I'm proud of him. He's a good kid and he's very smart. We're not sure what he's going to do yet, but whatever it is, he's going to change the world. I know he is."
Mains was one of 108 students to graduate in front of friends and family members holding balloons, bouquets of roses and other gifts. The class logged 9,753 volunteer hours and received $1.1 million in scholarships. Of the 108 graduates, 64 earned 870 college credits.
Olivia Lacaze, 17, stood in the processional, wearing the gold and blue cords of the National Honor Society. Lacaze graduated with straight A's and plans to attend Ecola Bible College in Cannon Beach, Ore., for a year before transferring to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
"I'm nervous but really excited and ready for the future," said Lacaze, noting she loved being at the high school because it was fun and like a big family. "I really want to be an art teacher, but there's not a big demand for it. So right now, I'm undecided about my career."
Speeches by the school's salutatorian and valedictorians ranged from funny to serious, captivating the audience. The salutatorian was Elizabeth Varona-Martinez, and the valedictorians were Fadi Ahmad Awik, Jessica Lorena Ponce and Matthew Lee Steed.
Varona-Martinez, 17, said she plans to attend Arizona State University and become a surgeon.
In her humorous speech, she described the challenges of being short, from people not seeing her to having to ask middle-schoolers to reach items on high shelves.
As Varona-Martinez stood on a box to see over the podium, she exhorted the Class of 2015 to overcome their own shortcomings as she has struggled to do with hers. The graduates must use their education and knowledge to become successful, she added.
"We've been knocked down, time and time again," said Varona-Martinez. "We start believing we don't have what it takes, we've reached our downfall, our rock bottom, our pit. But these shortcomings should not stop you.
"It's just a shortcoming. We adapt. We rise from our gloom and we fight to overcome it. I can't reach things in high places. So what? I get on a ladder and climb it."
Ponce, 17, took a more serious tone in her speech, pointing out the benefits of actually being able to receive an education. Many people in the world don't have that opportunity, said Ponce, and long for it. Ponce moved to Kingman last year from Montana and is undecided in her career choice.
She described Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani who was shot in the head at age 14 for defying the Taliban and pursuing her education after they closed the schools.
She also talked about her parents, Joe and Ari, who came to the U.S. from Mexico. Ari received a fourth-grade education, and Joe graduated from middle school there.
"I am grateful that a country and high school like this has created so many opportunities for us," said Ponce. "The United States has given people the chance to succeed as long as they strive for it. That is why so many people have the desire to come here. They want a life they couldn't possibly dream of back home."