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The pride and joy of graduation

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Photos by Jane Bachrach
Text by Will Grandbois
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Good communities, Roaring Fork High School Co-Valedictorian Tavia Teitler observed, are the best form of magic, and while each of the school’s record-breaking 82 graduates have something to be proud of, and the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.

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After all, this was the class that spearheaded a solar array and the seal of biliteracy, put together lip-sync battles and dance-offs, and decided to waffle in instead of walk out. They boast a 100 percent graduation rate, and 84 percent are college bound.

No wonder some of them opted to dance or skip their way to their seats rather than march, even if it altered the choreography somewhat. The crowd seemed to overflow with pride, as well, and insisted on a single clap after each award and local scholarship was announced — which involved about half the class.

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Vice Principal Kelsie Goodman clearly felt the love in her speech, which started on a personal note: her unsuccessful bid for principal which become a public spectacle, and how the kids had rallied around her.

“We all came in as freshmen together not knowing what Roaring Fork was all about,” she told them. I’ve been there with you through the breakups and the breakdowns, the bad decisions and the bad haircuts.”

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Goodman also shared a story her mom used to tell her about a woman who wished for her first born would be loved by everyone. His charmed life left him spoiled, and when s

he had a chance to change her wish, she asked for him to love others, instead.

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“You didn’t need a fairy godmother to grant all your wishes,” she said. “It is your choice to love others first. The more you put into your community, the more vibrant it will be.”

The sentiment was echoed by Co-Valedictorian Nick Penzel in his own speech — “We must be able to transcend our own darkest thoughts and let light and love fill the void.”

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Class Presidents Lorenzo Andrade and Enrique González were similarly uplifting in their speech, one of several bilingual aspects of the ceremony.

“It has been a long, short four years,” they said in English and Spanish. “It is from this moment onward that our opportunity to truly sing takes place.”

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The gift of yes

It began with silence. Still reeling from the loss of Ayleen Alvarado, Bridges High School paid her tribute before celebrating the bright futures of her 54 classmates. Mauricio Ruiz opened the graduation ceremony, and when the flowers were passed out, the students had some for the whole family.

There was plenty to celebrate, as well. The class garnered more than half a million dollars in scholarships and, for the first time in the school’s history, three valedictorians took the podium: Samantha Hankinson, Adele Craft and Hannah Hayden. Two of them even had associate degrees from Colorado Mountain College already in hand.

For Craft, it was just the latest proof that for it’s students, Bridges is more than an alternative.

“We’re given the gift of yes,” she said. “Here, I finally felt like I belonged and was appreciated.”

Indeed, she sees the challenges she and her peers faced as the source of their strength. They represented a diversity that was apparent as each student accepted their diploma while a faculty member recited, among other things, the subject of their Capstone project. A new graduation requirement of Roaring Fork School District, Capstone project topics ranged from tiny houses to veterinary medicine to “We can’t all be neurotypical Susan.”

“In my time here, I have learned a great deal about life and people with opinions different than my own,” Craft added. “We all come from very different backgrounds. We triumph in some areas and struggle in others, but the one thing we all have in common is that we chose to go to Bridges … Dare to be different, because after all that’s why we all ended up here.”

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