The pangs of wistfulness and nostalgia that stirred in Roy Sandoval during the Payson High School graduation were reminders of bygone years.
Watching the class of 2006 receive their diplomas, he was gently reminded of 29 years ago when he was a new Payson High School graduate eager to make his mark in the world.
But had someone told him in 1977 that he would someday return to Payson High School as principal, he would have scoffed at the notion.
"No way, not me be a principal," he said. "I can't repeat what I would have said had someone told me that."
Little did he know that one of his PHS teachers and coaches, Dennis Pirch, would successfully steer him into the education field as a student at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Pirch's encouragement came because he saw characteristics in Sandoval that made him believe the young man would become an outstanding teacher and coach.
"He had a love of people and an enthusiasm towards school, not just athletics, but all parts," Pirch said. "He also had some great leadership skills."
When Sandoval eventually earned his bachelor's degree from NAU, he returned to his alma mater to teach biology and life science.
After several years in the classroom and coaching football, wrestling, baseball and softball, Sandoval was summoned to the district office by then superintendent Russ Kinzer.
He remembers the years as an assistant to Kinzer as being challenging, but he was thrilled when he was asked to take over as principal at Payson Elementary School.
After a highly successful stint there, Sandoval returned to his alma mater in 2005 to replace Sue Myers who was appointed district superintendent.
Having recently completed his first year at PHS, Sandoval realizes times have changed at the school since he attended as a student.
"In those days, we knew everyone and their families and they knew you," he said. "We had only about 350 kids in the school."
Today, the student body numbers over 900 students, many of them first or second year enrollees and some students filter in and out of school at will.
Sandoval also remembers the now sprawling campus as having been much smaller and more rural.
"We had only three buildings, Old Main, East Wing and the gym," he said. "There was no (Rim Country) Middle School. All that area was forest land."
The principal recalls he and a friend 4-wheeling a school jeep, "Old Blue," around the trails and paths on campus.
In athletics, today's Payson High School wrestling teams are proven winners and traditionally challenge for region and state honors. But in 1974, Sandoval was on Payson High's first ever wrestling team that never enjoyed much success.
"I remember a match against Apache Junction and most all of us lost by pins," he said. "The match was over so quick, and admission was being charged. (Principal) Tom Meck wanted to give the fans their money back."
Pirch recruited Sandoval for his inaugural wrestling team because he saw him excel in football and baseball.
"I knew he was a good athlete, he was all region in three sports and an all-state defensive back," Pirch said.
In reflecting on the past, Sandoval remembers a greater level of school spirit running through the student body.
"One of the things I had to do this year was ask myself ‘Where did it go?'," he said. "I still want to find out."
As Sandoval attempts to guide today's students through trying times and make sure they make good choices and decisions, he remembers his teachers and coaches doing that for him.
"I was always surrounded by them and that was good for me, I needed that," he said. "Coaches could do so much for us. Coaches Pirch and Meck drove us all around the state to meets, practices and sometimes drove us in their own cars.
"Today, coaches can't do that."
The challenges Sandoval faces today as a principal are much different than his predecessors faced in the 1970s.
"Attitudes are different and there is not the high regard for authority we had in those days," he said. "I was never allowed to complain about a teacher or coach."
Today, criticism and second guessing is commonplace as evidenced by the number of teachers and coaches who have resigned or been asked to step down.
In future years, Sandoval's goal as PHS principal is to foster an atmosphere of cooperation and belonging on the campus.
"I want to recreate that culture that we had where kids could see they were a very important part of something that is larger than themselves," he said. "They belong to something that is challenging."
The new principal believes he is up to that challenge.
"I am in a job where I can do that and I came from an era when I knew what that was like."