Scott Griffin learned a couple of valuable lessons within two months after dropping out of high school: "You can't go into rodeo poor, and you can't go anywhere without a high school diploma."
Now he says that picking up those bits of wisdom may be the best things he ever learned.
Impatient with life and bored with education, Griffin followed his dreams right out of high school. "I quit school to see if I could go and become a rodeo star," he said. "My buddy said we'd hit a couple of rodeos."
So off to Texas Griffin and his buddy headed, horse trailer in tow. "We won a little and lost a little," he said, "but rodeo is a rich man's sport."
Griffin said he has dreamed of living the cowboy life since he was a little boy. "But dreams can come later," he said. "My whole life I've jumped ahead of myself -- wanted to be better than I already was, wanted to be older."
That's not an unusual state of mind for teen-agers. But what may be unusual is for someone to drop back in to high school so quickly after dropping out.
"When I got back from Texas everything seemed to hit me in the face," Griffin said. "I found out I want to be more. I want to better myself."
Without being told, he knew that the road to self-improvement would have to begin by returning to school and earning a degree. "College is important for some, but it's not for everyone," he said. "But high school is important to everyone."
Griffin admits that he never really wanted to be in a classroom. That's why he became interested in the building-trades courses at Mingus Union High School. Dave Dumas, director of the vocational education for Mingus, decided to let Griffin into the program. Griffin says that was a real turning point in his life. "I love it," Griffin said. "That's what I want to do. It makes you feel proud to drive by something you helped build"
And he will soon have the opportunity to work in the building trades. In July, Griffin will accompany three other Mingus students to a national building-skills competition in Kansas City. It is the second year that Griffin has been part of a team that won first place in the state competition and qualified for the national.
On the night of graduation, Griffin received three offers of employment by area contractors. Dumas said Griffin was offered employment a year ago during the state building-skills competitom. Now, when he returns to Cottonwood following the Kansas City competition, he expects to begin work in his chosen field.
Having grown up in Chino Valley, Griffin moved to Cottonwood at the end of his sophomore year of high school. "It was the best thing I've ever done for myself," he said.
He moved in with his sister. "My mother is a wonderful person," Griffin said. "She's raised three good kids. But I wanted to go to a better school.
"Ever since I've been at Mingus, teachers have really focused on me and given me options," Griffin said. "I've found out what my abilities are." He said the teachers at Mingus have not only helped him become a proud student but also a proud person.
Because his dad died when Griffin was only 3, and his mother struggled to raise her family as a single parent, being proud is something that is very important. "I really want to make my family proud of me," he said. "In the process, I found out I can be proud of myself."
Griffin was selected to play his guitar during the Mingus graduation ceremony. It was another proud moment for him.
"My father was a guitar player and left me his acoustic and electric guitars," Griffin said. Without the benefit of taking lessons that would cost more than Griffin could afford, he learned to play the guitar by accompanying his uncle's band around to gigs. "I learned all the basic chords from watching them" he said. "Now music is the best hobby I've got."
The music also may have provided a connection between Griffin and his father, who he never had the opportunity to know. "I believe my father is still around," he said. "I really think he's been here for me the whole time.
"He was up there pushing me along."