Bilingual valedictorian speech celebrates RFHS diversity

A member of the RFHS graduating class of 2017 smiles to friends during the commencement ceremony at Saturday afternoon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Roaring Fork High School graduates were urged by co-valedictorian Tavia Teitler to get to know someone different than oneself, and not to wait to grow up before making a difference in the world.

Those and one other key message were shared by Teitler in a bilingual speech given interchangeably in English and Spanish Saturday, as 82 RFHS graduates turned their tassels in Carbondale. More than half of this year’s class of Roaring Fork graduates, the largest ever at the school, has Hispanic surnames.

“Not everyone is good at everything, but everyone is good at something,” Teitler also offered in challenging the class of 2017 to “uncover as many superpowers as you can …”

“My time at Roaring Fork has taught me that good communities are the best kind of magic, because you always get back more than you put in,” she said. “Important to building a strong, diverse community is taking the time to develop the bravery to get to know people who appear to be different than yourself.

“If we only build relationships with people who are like us, then we limit our understanding of the rest of the world … The more we get to know people who are different from us, the more we can understand the world around us …”

Sharing RFHS valedictorian honors with Teitler was Nick Penzel, who urged his classmates to let love and compassion shine through the darkness in the world.

“As I ponder the world we walk into, I’m filled with apprehension,” he said.

“We need to let love and compassion come back into our hearts,” Penzel said, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Giving the commencement address was popular RFHS Assistant Principal Kelsie Goodman, who came to Roaring Fork as a “freshman” alongside the class of 2017. Over the past four years, she said she has enjoyed the many celebrations, from working to make the school building 100 percent solar powered to advocating for the Roaring Fork School District to adopt a seal of biliteracy for graduates who become bilingual.

Goodman also acknowledged the students and community for helping lift her up after she was passed over for the open principal’s job earlier this spring.

“I’ve learned that the best teams are the ones that pick you back up when you fall apart,” said Goodman, who plans to return to RFHS as assistant principal next year.

When she wasn’t selected to replace Principal Drew Adams, who is leaving to teach in South America, Goodman shared with the graduates and their families gathered in the school gym that it “turned into an intensely vulnerable time, and extremely public … I was feeling like I had let everyone down, embarrassed, like I wasn’t good enough or capable enough, and everyone knew it.”

Instead of organizing a walkout in protest, which a group of students had begun planning, Goodman talked the student body into having a “waffle-in” to celebrate the school’s “strength as a team.”

“The class of 2017 keeps teaching me that we are only bound by the limits of our creativity and the amount that we are willing to work,” Goodman said. “Your love … changed me from the girl who didn’t get the job to the waffle girl. That’s a much better name.”

In addition to being the largest class to ever graduate from Roaring Fork, it did so with a 100 percent graduation rate.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.