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Credit deficit? Map a plan, stick to it, says this grad

Grad with Grit: Ryan Rivera 

Caledonia — As a kid, Ryan Rivera said watching the Disney movie “Cars” inspired his love for working on them. 

“I like loud cars and fast cars,” he said. “When you finally get something right and it’s working, it’s a good feeling.” 

During his junior year at Caledonia High School, he discovered Kent Career Tech Center’s Diesel & Equipment Technology program and experienced hands-on projects from start to finish.

“They teach you everything you need to know and treat it like a (real) working environment,” Ryan said. “We tear down a complete motor, take everything apart, and put it back together and hope that it starts. It’s really fun and really rewarding.”

Despite excelling at the Tech Center, Ryan almost didn’t make it to the finish line of graduating high school. 

‘I was tired of being behind … I have no plans to go to college, but wanted … to get it done for myself.’

— 2024 grad Ryan Rivera

Coming Back After Falling Behind

When the COVID-19 pandemic crashed into his last year of middle school, Ryan said he fell behind as a freshman due to his virtual classes and coursework.

Caledonia High School graduate Ryan Rivera attended Kent Career Tech Center’s diesel and equipment technology program for two years

“I didn’t open my computer once (during freshman year), because no one was telling me to,” he said. “Coming into sophomore year, I had a lot of classes to make up and I knew I had to get it all done.”

Around the same time, Ryan decided to move out of his mom’s house to leave behind a difficult situation and bounced around between friends’ houses.

“My friend, Ben, and his dad helped me a lot and gave me work to do,” he said. “Another buddy’s family told me I could move in with them; their only stipulation was that I graduated.” 

Ryan identified procrastination as his biggest challenge during high school. After telling himself he would “get it done later” for so long, Ryan said he realized he needed a diploma. 

“I was tired of being behind, and I didn’t want to be behind anymore,” he said. “I have no plans to go to college, but wanted to get my (diploma) as something for me; I wanted to get it done for myself.” 

Ryan said Compass class teacher Colin Nelson helped him stay on track while making up classes. 

“Mr. (Colin) Nelson (has) been a cool dude and really helped me,” Ryan said. “I wasn’t keeping up my pace at the beginning of this year, and he told me to take a serious look at getting my GED. I told him I didn’t want to do that.”

Ryan said he completed eight online classes in half the time they typically take to complete. 

Nelson, CHS’ Compass teacher, said he noticed huge improvements in Ryan’s focus and drive during senior year. 

Caledonia High School graduate Ryan Rivera practices his welding skills at the Kent Career Tech Center

“Ryan’s determination to graduate shows the type of character that he has, and is a foreshadowing for the capability that he will have as an adult,” Nelson said. “While he was facing a pretty daunting credit deficit for graduation, he mapped out a plan for himself, stuck to it and saw it to completion.”

Nelson said he thinks the ability to overcome challenges and hardships is a far greater indicator of future success than the grades a person earns in high school. 

“Ryan did it all while having a positive attitude and a great sense of humor,” he said. “I am very proud of that young man.”

In addition to attending the Tech Center and working as a mechanic at a bowling alley, Ryan made up credits while maintaining his twelfth-grade course load and graduated with his class on May 21.

Looking forward, he said he plans to join the Army after spending time working and saving money over the summer. 

“I have a lot of military family and both of my parents were in the Air Force,” Ryan said. “It will be quite a change, but I enjoy routine … and I’m really excited to be done with this chapter.” 

Read more from Caledonia: 
Focus, trust helped this grad overcome pandemic setback
Embraced by community, twins persevere

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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