Roaring Fork Schools’ Class of 2020 ready to make it one for the history books
Glenwood Springs High School class of 2020 valedictorian William Haas wasn’t so keen on standing in front of a bunch of people giving a graduation speech anyway.
“I don’t really like being in front of big groups,” Haas said, as he looked ahead to Saturday’s big celebration on the runway at the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport.
The virtual broadcast and the controlled, drive-in setting — open only to his fellow graduates, immediate family and school staff due to public health restrictions prompted by the coronavirus outbreak this spring — is just fine with him, Haas said.
The Glenwood ceremony will be broadcast live on KMTS and live-streamed on the GSHS Facebook page for the broader community to tune in at 9 a.m. It will be followed by a parade of graduates along Midland Avenue and looping through downtown Glenwood Springs.
Glenwood’s graduation will be one of five drive-in graduation ceremonies for Roaring Fork District and related schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt on Friday and Saturday.
The lineup starts with Yampah Mountain High School at 10 a.m. Friday at the Glenwood Community Center and Bridges High School in Carbondale at 6 p.m. that evening.
Glenwood Springs and Basalt high school’s ceremonies are on tap for 9 a.m. (Basalt’s will be broadcast on KNFO and live-streamed on the school’s Facebook page), followed by Carbondale’s Roaring Fork High School at 10 a.m., streamed live on KDNK and also on Facebook. See the accompanying schedule for viewing details.
Friday, May 29
• Yampah Mountain High School, 10 a.m. Glenwood Springs Community Center; livestream on YMHS Facebook page and YouTube; parade of graduates to follow along Midland Avenue and through downtown Glenwood.
Saturday, May 30
• Glenwood Springs High School, 9 a.m. Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport; ceremony will be broadcast live on KMTS (99.1) and on the GSHS Facebook page and on YouTube; parade to follow at approximately 11 a.m., heading north on Midland Avenue and looping through downtown.
Haas said he was honored to have be selected as the GSHS valedictorian this year, but wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the traditional speech.
As it turned out, the end of the spring semester ended up being anything but traditional.
When in-class instruction was canceled for the rest of the year after spring break, Haas said it was sad.
“There was no prom, AP tests were moved online … are we ever going to see our teachers again?” Haas said. “There were all of these questions.
“We’ve had to deal with it, figure out how to navigate all of these challenges and just keep moving forward and accept that this was the end of our year,” Haas said with respect to the COVID-19 crisis.
Haas said he has loved growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley, but is ready to experience someplace new after graduating. He’s headed to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he plans to study neuroscience.
“I love learning about other cultures and experiencing it through the languages,” said Haas, who is also bilingual.
Glenwood’s graduation ceremony will also feature a special remote commencement address from blind adventurer and motivational speaker Erik Weihenmayer, thanks to donations from Alpine Bank and Glenwood Insurance Agency.
Despite losing his vision at the age of 14, Weihenmayer became an accomplished athlete, becoming the first blind climber in history to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2001.
In 2008, he completed his quest to climb the Seven Summits — the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents. An article in Time Magazine stated, “There is no way to put what Erik has done in perspective because no one has ever done anything like it.”
His will be an appropriate message for this year’s high school graduates, GSHS Athletic Director Craig Denney said.
“These kids have put their hearts into creating something special for their classmates and I applaud the resilience of this special group of graduates,” Denney said. “It will be wonderful to celebrate these kids, even if it’s not in the traditional format we’re used to.”
ONE TO REMEMBER
Rex Hamilton was one of 19 Roaring Fork High School students who managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average, so each will be honored as co-valedictorians. Hamilton will give one of two student speeches, along with co-valedictorian Lucia Penzel, on Saturday in Carbondale.
“Despite some of the unfortunate memories this year, I want to remind my classmates to remember and cherish all the good things … the mountains, this beautiful place we live in …,” Hamilton said. “You have to find the silver lining.”
Hamilton said he’s talked to a lot of people who don’t really remember their graduation, especially the boring speeches.
“We’ll remember this one, because it’s so unique. And we’ll be able to tell the stories, because we graduated in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
Hamilton, an accomplished musician, was also asked to arrange some vocal numbers among his classmates for this year’s graduation. They will be aired on public radio station KDNK as a prelude to Saturday’s event starting at 10 a.m.
After graduation, Hamilton plans to attend McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
The RFHS commencement speaker — also sharing her message remotely — will be former assistant principal Kelsie Goodman, who left Carbondale two years ago to take a job in her native Iowa.
Graduating senior Jessica Lee, who attends the alternative Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, offered that, despite all that’s happened this spring, her school’s graduation will be just as unique as it always is.
“I just love that Yampah really put itself out there to try to encourage students to keep strong, and keep confident, and to say that it will all be OK,” she said. “We all kind of stuck together. We were family before school ended, and we’re family even more now than ever.”
Post Independent reporter Matthew Bennett contributed to this story.
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