In bittersweet ceremony, Basalt seniors show resilience for future
For the valedictorians of Basalt High School’s class of 2020, it didn’t matter that Saturday’s commencement exercises saw spectators sitting on the hoods of parked cars, speakers cleaning microphones with sanitary wipes, and cheers competing with honks for loudest applause.
They were just glad to be at the same place at the same time — forget the masks, social- distancing and other health protocols that were unthinkable as recently as early March — and in a celebratory mood tempered by loss and grief.
“We’re lucky we even get to have this celebration,” said Sasha Brucker, who lived in Canada to play hockey but continued taking BHS classes remotely for part of her junior and senior years. She wasn’t able to return to BHS for her last few months of school, as planned, because of the pandemic. “It’s not on Zoom or anything like that.”
Brucker is taking a gap year while she hopes to keep playing hockey. Anne Schrock, also a valedictorian, is off to Columbia University, where she’ll major in physics and comparative literature.
“I set goals, which most said are far reaching. I stayed close to the people that mattered and I followed my own path,” Schrock told the crowd during the valedictorians’ address.
Principal Peter Mueller called Basalt’s graduating seniors a “special class of students” who bonded “through loss and hardship and despite or because of these challenges, they have shown great love for one another, their teachers, and their parents.”
Mueller’s remarks set the stage for what would be a recurring theme at the 9 a.m. drive-in graduation ceremony: This group of resilient graduates is armored and prepared for the future because they endured some tough losses, but none more trying that two of their Longhorn peers last year.
Anna Cunningham was 16 years old when she died Feb. 28, 2019, from a rare cancer. And on May 4 of that year, Tyler Ribich, also 16, was killed in a car crash in Missouri Heights.
“They have lost Anna Cunningham and Tyler Ribich, both of which would bring most to their knees,” said keynote speaker Ralph Smalley, a coach and P.E. teacher. “But these seniors rise up and they stand tall for their lost friends. They honor them, they remember them, and they love them. We all miss Tyler and Anna, but these seniors stand tall for them.”
Joining Smalley as keynote speaker was teacher Sofie Webb, who said while Cunningham missed high school events and social activities because of cancer, she did not play victim to her unjust circumstances.
“Anna took ownership of her short time on this Earth,” Webb said. “When her health allowed her, she attended class, she worried about her grades, she joked with her friends; and like so many of her classmates in psychology, she also was horrified by Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus theories.”
Ribich was known as “the performer, the comedian, and the musician,” Webb recalled, and he also was a caring friend and “person who used his time and his talents to bring joy to others. None of us know how much time we have. Tyler spent it with the people he cared about and on the passions that drove him. He would want you to do the same.”
The 104 graduates also heard from their head students — James Blazier, Daniel Sherry and Benjamin Williams.
“I think the message that I really want to show is that we’re all in this together,” Sherry said ahead of the shared address. “Nobody saw this (the pandemic and its effects) coming, and here we are together. This is awesome.”
Sherry is headed to CU-Boulder this fall. Like Williams, who is going to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, they are waiting and seeing what the autumn semester will bring.
As of Saturday, the road map for state universities calls for in-person classes to start the last week of August and go to remote learning after Thanksgiving. Fall break also would be shortened.
Blazier is headed to the University of Southern California.
“Many things were unexpected and unplanned for the class of 2020 this year, and overall,” Blazier said from the stage, which was set on the lawn in front of the high school. “I know that many of us were looking forward to a lot of things that just didn’t happen, or didn’t happen the way we had planned them: graduation, choir, final prom, spring break plans, the musical, even AP tests. Or anything else that you can think of. Out of all the scenarios we pictured this year, this one was — to say the least — the most unexpected.”
Blazier and his fellow head students, however, encouraged people to at least take comfort knowing they grow when life strays from script.
“But we urge everyone else to always remember this year, and this spring, and find something valuable within all of it,” Blazier said “I feel like it’s so easy to feel disappointed about hearing everything we missed, but honestly, despite everything, I feel all the same happiness, excitement and pride that I saw and felt in past graduations.”
A sidewalk in front of the high school separated the speakers’ stage from the parking lot.
Students were called to accept their diplomas in groups of 10. Rather than receiving them in the traditional manner from the principal or superintendent, the graduates collected their diplomas from a side table before elbow-bumping their principal, school board president and other officials on the stage. Following the ceremony, students were saluted in a parade through town.
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