By Cody Hookschooks@taosnews.comAs ferocious spring winds tore through the Peñasco Valley on Saturday morning (May 25), the high school graduation ceremony seemed well protected in the …
By Cody Hooks
As ferocious spring winds tore through the Peñasco Valley on Saturday morning (May 25), the high school graduation ceremony seemed well protected in the comforting glow of all that the rite of passage has to offer: traditional blessings, proud teachers and families, fond memories and words to send the students-no-more on their way.
By the end of the morning, 23 young people from every corner of the valley had graduated from Peñasco High School.
For many of them, the finality of the moment had been building for a long time. Most of the students are from families rooted in the valley, and their education was rooted in the elementary, middle and high school that all share a campus in the heart of Peñasco.
Valedictorian Bianca Contreras recalled that over the years in her small, tight-knit school district, she watched cousins and friends grow up and graduate. Adults would often look down and say to her, "Someday."
And just like that, "that repetitive word" became reality.
"You never realize how fast time passes until every 'someday' you were told about when you were younger becomes a 'right now,' a today," Contreras said.
As commonplace as graduations are, the one in Peñasco on Saturday was particularly momentous for each student for different reasons.
When salutatorian Adam Rendon took to the commencement stage, the crowd in the Jicarita Gym got especially quiet.
"The journey to get to this moment has not been easy," he said.
Underneath Rendon's stoic statement is a life filled with a struggle that made his graduation -- both from high school and from Northern New Mexico College, where he received an associate degree -- all the more meaningful.
"He's gone through hell. That's the bottom line," said his lifelong pediatrician Dr. Sylvia Villarreal, owner of Taos Clinic for Children.
Rendon was born with a severe form of scoliosis, which dramatically curved his spine.
Villarreal had to personally travel to Texas to petition a highly specialized surgeon to give Rendon the best treatment available.
The surgeon agreed and that kicked off a period of more than five years during which Rendon and his family would make the journey from the remote Peñasco Valley to Texas for his treatment.
Multiple times a year, Rendon's parents would load up the car and they would make the two-day drive to the hospital. The regimen of laborious surgeries took Rendon out of classes for weeks or months at a time.
"We made it to this point in our lives," Rendon said at the podium on Saturday. "We couldn't have done it just by ourselves."
Rendon will attend the University of New Mexico-Taos this fall, where he plans to pursue a career in nursing -- a dream that emerged from his journey so far.
"All those nurses made sure I was fine, my family was fine. They were always so nice and helpful," he said.
"I sat down and thought about it, and thought, 'That's what I want to do,'" he said. "I like helping people."
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