Coal Ridge sends off 81 grads

The way Coal Ridge High School valedictorian Benjamin Harju figures it, even people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Albert Einstein didn’t succeed at first.

Yet, “They were determined to keep trying and became some of the most successful people in the world,” he said during the school’s graduation ceremony Friday at the school that serves Silt and New Castle.

Harju also could have been talking about fellow classmate Alex Centeno. By Centeno’s own admission, he was “kind of wild” his freshman and sophomore years, hung around with the wrong crowd and didn’t do well in school.

“When I hit my junior and senior year I just started to make a change. I had an urge to graduate, just prove to people that I can make it,” he said.

Centeno said he was motivated by hearing that people doubted his ability to succeed. By his senior year he was earning top grades, and out of this year’s graduating class of 81, Centeno was honored with the Tough Titan award, given to a student who has turned things around academically.

Centeno said it took a lot of hard work, but he also benefited from the encouragement of people such as his mother, and his girlfriend, fellow 2013 Coal Ridge grad Elizabeth Moreno. Centeno also drew confidence from the example of his sister, Rachel, who graduated a few years ago after similarly having fallen behind in her studies before determining to do better.

Two other families have established their own traditions of success at the relatively new school. Harju’s sibling, Christie, was the valedictorian at Coal Ridge in 2011. Ironically, that same year Paige Groves was salutatorian, and this year Paige’s sister, Morgan, earned that honor.

As this year’s students embarked on new adventures in life, Coal Ridge teacher and graduation speaker Michael Mikalakis advised them, “Live your life in the now, care for the one next to you and help anyone you can.”

He might have added to never doubt what others might be able to accomplish, as Centeno showed. Centeno now is planning to attend Colorado Mountain College in Rifle and wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, buoyed by what he discovered he could accomplish in high school.

“It was difficult but I just kept trying and trying and I made it, and I know I can make it in the future too, and if anyone else wants to doubt me I’ll just show that I’ll prove them wrong,” he said.


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