First class graduation at Coal Ridge |

First class graduation at Coal Ridge

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

PEACH VALLEY, Colorado – High school graduation for Pramini Kanakaraj was much more than just her first big accomplishment, it was another first for Coal Ridge High School as well.”It’s a really big honor,” said the school’s first-ever valedictorian after she turned her tassel and tossed her cap Sunday afternoon. “It’s a special part of the school’s history. I just hope I made a good first impression.”People from across the valley packed the gymnasium at the three-year-old high school for its inaugural graduation ceremony. It’s the first high school graduation for the towns of Silt and New Castle in 42 and 45 years, respectively, according to Garfield School District Re-2 superintendent Gary Pack.It was a day of many firsts – for faculty, parents, students and community.

“Today is a very special day for the class of 2008,” said Coal Ridge social studies teacher Luke Labaw during the commencement address. “They’ve been the guinea pig class of the school.”Labaw, a 1997 graduate of Rifle High School, asked the graduates to stand. And just as they have for the past three years, all 69 seniors rose to their feet and stood as graduates. Not one senior from the school was absent from the ceremony that day. Each walked across the stage and received a diploma.”Give them a round of applause,” Labaw asked the assembled crowd as the room erupted with thunderous applause.”If anyone can handle the ups and downs of this place we call earth,” Labaw said, “I know it’s you.”When it was time for Kanakaraj to take the stage and address her classmates, she approached the stage quietly and slowly. The moment, a culmination of just two years at the school, but 12 years as a student, had arrived. It was her time to speak to her classmates as a leader and to the community they live in as their voice.

“You have impacted my life greatly,” Kanakaraj said. “You will always be in my heart and in my memories.”For all of the graduates of CRHS the years were spent establishing an identity, not only as a class, but for the “new school on the block” as well. In that time the students have become a family of “stepsisters” and “stepbrothers,” in Kanakaraj’s opinion, creating a family that will forever be known as the CRHS Titan class of 2008.”Whether from New Castle or Silt, Glenwood Springs or Rifle, or from another state or elsewhere, the diversity of the class of 2008 is great and has brought so many new perspectives and friends into our lives,” Kanakaraj said. “Even though we lost some as well, it has ultimately made the 2008 family even stronger. Once again, I am proud to be a part of such a resilient and diversified family, the Coal Ridge High School class of 2008.”Two late CRHS students, Zach Schwartz and Philip Harju, were recognized as classmates of 2008 during the ceremony. Principal Jeanie Humble asked the audience for a moment of silence to pay respects to the two young men that lost their lives while in high school. Schwartz was killed in an automobile accident in 2006. Harju died of cancer about a year earlier and was also recognized at the Rifle High School graduation earlier in the day.

The day was also a first for Humble, leaving her nearly speechless after the ceremony had concluded.”I don’t know if I’ve got the words to describe what I’m feeling,” Humble said. “It’s exceeded all expectations.”Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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