Rifle graduation cause for celebration and remembrance
Amid the celebratory and festive atmosphere, the Rifle High School community on Sunday remembered a member of the class of 2016 whose life was cut short.
Students handed a sponge to Rifle High School Principal Todd Ellis as they received their diplomas. The sponge was a symbolic reference to classmate Kyle Scholla, who died in April.
Scholla would commonly say that he was a sponge absorbing people, Ellis explained after the ceremony.
The crowd of people who packed the football stadium that day paused when they reached Scholla’s name during the awarding of diplomas.
The loss was not lost on Joseph Kosht, class of 2016 valedictorian. While Kosht, who is fairly certain that he will attend Baylor University to study computer science, followed the standard template for such an address — one part thank-you and one part motivation — he also noted the emotional difficulty of the past year.
A former Rifle High student also passed away in the last year and, on a more personal level, Kosht said his grandfather also died.
He struck a more solemn and serious tone during this portion of his speech.
“No one can bring them back and no one can shed enough tears to mourn the loss, but there is one thing we can do,” Kosht said. “As a graduating class, we can go out and … let their lives have an impact on you, let the lessons they’ve taught you be used in the future.”
Speaking from personal experience, few things compare to the feeling of making others proud of your accomplishments, Kyle Mickelson, Rifle High School history teacher, said during his commencement address.
Mickelson was a student at Columbine High School during a deadly shooting in 1999. He credits his high school teacher Dave Sanders with saving his life that day. Sanders did not survive.
Last year, Mickelson was approached about the idea of coaching cross country. Having never run cross country or coached it, Mickelson took a risk and said yes.
In September, the team traveled to Littleton for a large meet organized by Columbine High. After the race, Mickelson ran into Sanders’ wife and he could not help but express how proud he was of his team and how lucky he was to be a teacher here in Rifle.
She responded, Mickelson said, by stating she was proud of him and that she knew Mr. Sanders was too.
“This moment changed me,” Mickelson said. “I was on top of the world. Just thinking about it now makes me smile. There is no greater high than making others proud and in the process making you proud of yourself. … Life is so much bigger than the number of people you have following your story or how many people like one of your selfies. It’s about going out there and truly making the people who helped you get to this point proud of you.”
On that note, Mickelson encouraged the class of 2016 to not fear taking risks in life.
He reflected on his own graduations for inspiration and landed on his college commencement, and an uninspiring speech. The speaker, Mickelson explained, told students that the world was an increasingly bad place and that they should avoid making it a worse place.
While everyone can get behind the idea of not adding to the world’s toxicity, Mickelson said he was troubled by the notion of avoiding risks. Instead, he urged the students to make the world a better place.
“You have the power to make the world a better place for yourself and for those you care about,” he said.
That is likely a large group of people. The class of 2016 consisted of 133 students.
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The town would join Aspen and Glenwood Springs in prohibiting flavored tobacco sales and licensing retailers.