Class of 2023: My daughter & fellow graduates as special as can be

Me with my daughter Mackenzie following her high school graduation ceremony in Las Vegas (Morales family photo)

Challenges have occurred since the Class of 2023 seniors, including my daughter Mackenzie, started their high school years in August 2019.

The pandemic engulfed the world toward the end of their freshman year.

Before their junior year came to a close, the Ukrainian War started, affecting us with inflation and higher gas prices.

Without getting into politics, we’ve experienced other unsettling developments in our country during their four years in high school.

The Class of 2023 knows for certain that life is not easy and always has obstacles to overcome.

I can recall visiting my daughter in Las Vegas toward the end of her freshman year and hearing one of her teachers online being critical of a student for not responding to her.

I myself was forced to teach my exceptional education students at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate through this unconventional means of learning because of the pandemic.

Hearing the teacher’s frustrated voice made me pause and consider that none of us were prepared to handle what we were forced into after COVID-19 hit.

Being understanding of living situations of every student, knowing the parents and guardians were also not ready for the day-to-day difficulties, I empathized with the student getting criticized by the teacher.

How we handle difficult situations tells a lot about ourselves. For us adults, it is also important how we present ourselves in front of our younger generations when they need us the most.

Like many in the Class of 2023 my daughter is resilient.

Some of her friends at high school have come and gone and she has met knew ones along the way, including her boyfriend Diego.

At times, she became emotional about an essay to write or studying for a test, but she managed to complete the tasks with quality work. Her happiness and sense of fulfilment throughout these experiences makes the heart stronger.

As a parent who is an educator, I could see that her teachers would be appreciative of her effort and resolve. She was rambunctious during her elementary-school years — I remember her second-grade teacher telling me and her mom that she talks too much — but at the end of every school year, her teachers knew how valuable she was in their classroom.

Those high school seniors we have reported on at AllSportsTucson.com chased their dreams on the playing field with the hope of advancing to play in college. Some will do so while many won’t, but they move on with pride knowing they represented their school, themselves and their family well.

Reporting on them from their freshman to senior seasons was an experience to cherish as it will be for next year’s seniors and beyond. It’s a cycle that won’t be never-ending — at least for me and my brother Andy because we won’t live forever — but we hope it continues for many years to come.

This year’s senior class includes four-time state champion Sunnyside wrestler James Armstrong, who won his first state title on February 2020. Almost a year before that, his brother Josiah “JoJo” Armstrong, an aspiring wrestler, died because of liver failure. James was in the eighth grade and JoJo in the sixth grade at Sierra 2-8 School at the time of JoJo’s passing. James is now bound for Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, to wrestle with the spirit of his brother continuing to fuel his desire to succeed.

Reilly Clark, standout basketball player at Catalina Foothills, was the AllSportsTucson.com Freshman of the Year in 2019-20. Clark finished with 1,513 points and 604 rebounds in her career and is headed to Northern Arizona.

Thank goodness athletes such as James Armstrong and Reilly Clark were able to play their freshman season before the pandemic hit and compete for four years.

None of the Class of 2023 competed in a full season of softball, baseball, track and field and tennis as freshmen because their spring seasons were canceled due to COVID-19. The seniors on the Sabino and Salpointe softball teams and Catalina Foothills boys and girls tennis teams did not have the opportunity to complete a four-year run of state championships recently. After not having a freshman season, they earned three straight championships from their sophomore to senior seasons.

My daughter never got into sports like her dad. She became more interested in fashion and is gearing her college studies toward a career in that field.

Never did I force my daughter into playing sports. I knew better. My daughter is very strong-minded. She knows what she wants and does not want. My role as a parent is to guide her with the purpose of putting her in a position to make the right decisions for her and only her. Why put myself above that and get in her way?

My daughter emerged through the challenges during her time at Northwest Career & Technical Academy in Las Vegas like pressure on a rock creates a diamond.

She became an honor student and a teacher’s dream. I observed her hugging some of her teachers and administrators during Wednesday’s graduation ceremony at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Those were bear hugs with them swaying back and forth as if they did not want to let go.

My daughter’s caring heart and soul, and her laughter and playful manner, define her.

Her Tata, God rest his soul, is very proud of her, I’m sure, up above.

When he took his last breath in the hospice room on March 12, 2010, after battling cancer for 13 years, Mackenzie was by his side along with his other grandchildren. Only 5 years old at the time, Mackenzie sung a lullaby next to him that had the word “Sunshine” in it. Nobody could make out what song she was singing.

We asked her the name of the song and she said she did not know, only that she felt like singing it.

The battles that my daughter faced throughout her high school years, along with her Class of 2023 brothers and sisters, were during some dark times.

The graduates earned their diplomas with a sense of sunshine lighting their way as they head to their college years and careers.

Be as proud as you can be, Class of 2023.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top