Rifle High grads end year on a high note | PostIndependent.com

Rifle High grads end year on a high note

Ryan Hoffman

RIFLE — The idiom “a penny for your thoughts” is typically used to ask a quiet person what they are thinking. On Saturday, the 150 graduating seniors at Rifle High School offered both pennies and their thoughts, in a not-so-quiet fashion.

The audience, including the graduating students, hollered and cheered as the outgoing students walked on stage and handed Rifle High Principal Todd Ellis a penny, before shaking hands and receiving their diploma. When it was all said and done, Ellis promised, “to pay it forward.”

The pennies that day — the outgoing class always hands the principal something, making it an annual ceremonial shenanigan — were probably the closest thing the class had to a senior prank, which the 2015 seniors did not get to participate in. As Co-Valedictorian Kelly Coombs noted, the class lost their senior privileges at one point. But rather than dwell on the negatives, Coombs and Co-Valedictorian McKenna Smith pointed to the class’s accomplishments in the classroom, the auditorium and on the field.

Six students graduated with International Baccalaureate diplomas, and more than 20 students graduated as members of the National Honor Society. Nearly another 20 students earned an athletic letter each year they were at the high school. With all the accolades and accomplishments in the past four years at Rifle High, Smith and Coombs, in separate speeches, encouraged their former classmates not to fear failure in their future endeavors.

“Make each day count, ignore the negativity and don’t be afraid to dream, even if it scares you,” Smith said.

Many in the class of 2015 will move on to continue their education — the class received a combined $525,214 in first-year scholarship money. Others will enter the work force, but regardless of what the future holds, the co-valedictorians asked the graduating class to strive to be the best — a message that commencement speaker Kyle Mickelson also shared. Some of those students moving on from Rifle High, he said, have already overcome personal tragedies.

“And you have still made it to this point. I admire your strength,” Mickelson said. “Do not let anything hold you back from your dreams. Bad things happen — they will to all of us as we go through life. Take control of the situation and always strive to make a positive out of a negative. Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude.”

Mickelson knows something about personal tragedy. Teacher Dave Sanders saved Mickelson’s life during the Columbine High School shooting. Sanders’ selflessness was the reason Mickelson said he entered the teaching profession.

“I live to make him proud,” Mickelson said. “There are days where I feel like I have accomplished that, and there are days where I feel like I haven’t. But being bestowed the honor of speaking at a graduation of kids that I love like little brothers and sisters, I know would make him proud. Thank you for that. … God bless you, and I wish you nothing but the best going forward in life. You’re going to be great.”

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