EAGLE COUNTY — Graduation ceremonies are little different at “alternative” high schools, from the music to the location to the emotions.
A big group — 54 — of young adults Friday received diplomas from the county’s three alternative high schools: Red Canyon High School, New America High School and World Academy. The seniors walked across the grass at 4Eagle Ranch to a heavy-metal rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Young kids played on the lawn, while the seniors’ various cheering sections — both family and friends — clapped, whistles, and occasionally blew air horns as their student’s name was mentioned.
Brendan Cox and Mike Smith came to cheer on friend, “virtual sister” and fellow musician Jonna Spigener. Cox and Smith are 2008 graduates of Red Canyon, and both said the school was a key part of their lives.
“It gave me a future — I had none before,” Cox said. Smith said his ties to the school mean he attends every graduation ceremony, whether he knows any of the graduates or not.
Both Smith and Cox work regular jobs, but they, and Spigener, have dreams of being professional musicians.
Pursuing dreams was a major theme of Friday’s ceremony.
Longtime Red Canyon counselor Judith Caligiuri, who’s retiring this year, told the graduates to have a goal, and then pursue it. Those goals may change, but the key is the pursuit.
“Don’t have as an epitaph that you were dead at 30 and buried at 80,” Caligiuri said.
Caligiuri also urged the students to “believe you are capable of change.”
There was plenty of change at Red Canyon this past school year.
Red Canyon principal Wade Hill told the audience that the New America School — a school for immigrant students learning English — didn’t have a home at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, and opened the year just ended as part of Red Canyon’s campus in Edwards.
“You embraced it,” Hill told the students. “And we’re here together in unity. That’s why all the graduates work black graduation gowns, with sashed in their school colors.
But, Hill said, that’s just change. “Life is change — growth is optional,” he said.
The students who spoke Friday seemed ready to embrace the changes life is bringing.
Jammie Dumolt reminded her classmates that their lives so far have been a “dress rehearsal” for their lives to come.
“What’s up ahead is going to be the hard part,” Dumolt said. But, like other speakers, she urged her classmates to “dream big.”
Dumolt was one of several graduates to receive college scholarships — more than one, in fact. Another recipient was Juliet Amancio, who was awarded a full-ride scholarship to Colorado Mountain College. In all, 10 of the 54 graduates received scholarships, awarded by organizations including the local Rotary Club, Alpine Bank, and the parents of Robert Scott Reiter, a Red Canyon who died in a 2010 rafting accident.
The local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars also presented a scholarship, this one in the memory of Tim Cochrane, who for many years ran Vail Mountain Rescue.
Those scholarships represent a lot of money to kick-start a lot of dreams. They also reflect the generosity of the community Hill said, urging recipients to take be sure to use the money to full advantage.
Some dreams can’t wait. That’s why Allison Campbell — another scholarship recipient — earned her high school diploma in three years. She’ll head off to Colorado Mesa University in the fall to further her education and pursue her dream of competitive mountain biking.
After the diplomas were handed out, hugs hugged and photos taken, the audience headed off to the barn for cake. Dreams are great, but sometimes you stop for a sweet treat.