Vail Mountain School seniors embrace hope at conclusion of high school journey |

Vail Mountain School seniors embrace hope at conclusion of high school journey

Class of 2021 hung together and kept things light through a challenging final year

The Vail Mountain School Class of 2021 graduates Friday in Vail. Students reflected on how navigating through a school year in a pandemic was no easy task.
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VAIL — Through it all, the members of Vail Mountain School’s Class of 2021 kept dancing, kept singing, kept laughing.

Molly Blakslee, who delivered the senior address at Friday’s outdoor commencement ceremony at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, said she found inspiration for her speech in the most unlikely place: the Whole Foods candy aisle.

As she considered candy bars, Blakslee said an inspirational quote plastered across a brightly colored wrapper caught her eye: “Life is a shipwreck. But we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”

Leave it to Voltaire and chocolate to capture what’s really important.

Alexander Viola plays piano during Friday’s commencement ceremony for Vail Mountain School's Class of 2021 at the Ford Amphitheater in Vail.
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“For the 13 years that I’ve known this class, our lifeboats have been filled with the songs of confusion and laughter,” Blakslee said.

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She added: “Even beyond this past year, my lasting memory from classmates are mostly of laughter and a day-by-day lighthearted approach to life to accompany the work that it takes to get through it. … There has always been a source of light or humor to accompany our class through whatever challenges we faced during our years. And finally, through our senior year.”

Cami Johnson, delivering the junior address, recounted how this group of seniors was always the first on the dance floor at school events — and the last to leave.

Even when the DJ was lousy.

Cameron Bill, Honor Guard to Vail Mountain School graduate Hayley Bill, adjusts her tassel during the commencement ceremony Friday at The Amp in Vail.
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“They would’ve rather danced to bad music than let the night go to waste,” she said. “It’s no wonder they stayed so positive in such strange circumstances.”

Finishing up high school in the middle of a global pandemic? Strange indeed. But seniors Jessica Sherpa and Elliot Pribramsky said relentless hope is what carried this class through to the other side and into a brighter future.

Kindergarteners, or the Class of 2033, present yellow roses to their upper class friends during the graduation ceremony of the Vail Mountain School Class of 2021 Friday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/

“At the start of this year we didn’t know what to expect,” Sherpa said. “The confusing times left us feeling almost hopeless. Our only hopes were to attend school in person and graduate at the end of May.”

The class of seniors certainly accomplished that, and much more, including pulling off theater productions, getting in a senior prom, and getting to compete on the pitch, in the gym and on the hill despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19.

“Our class has learned that hope is not tied to a particular outcome, but rather hope is being able to see there is a light despite all the darkness,” Sherpa said. “Our interpretation of hope may change many times during our lives, but as we leave Vail Mountain School, this is our current definition: Hope is having trust in our community to create everlasting memories while having optimism for the future. Hope is a healer, a motivator, and it is contagious, so we encourage our class to embrace hope as we move on to the next phase of our lives.”

Sally Johnston helps present the Sally Johnston Award during the commencement ceremony Friday in Vail. Johnston was one of the founders and visionaries to help create Vail Mountain School.
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Moving on for this class of 37 seniors means a variety of different things. Some will stay close to home for college, while others will be heading west and others east to pursue big dreams. One graduate, Daniela Payen, has qualified for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

It’s a talented, resilient group that hung together through all of the adversity, and while they’ll all be in different places next fall when the school year starts, they’ll never lose the bond they shared as a group of classmates.

“Every day I’m glad to share the lifeboat with the 37 of you,” Blakslee said. “And I’m glad for your endless laughter, determination and presence that has enriched our every moment at VMS. I’m sure that as we step beyond the bounds of this valley, life will only present itself as more and more of a shipwreck of challenges, unexpected delights, and growth. As each of our lifeboats heads off into whatever direction we can possibly dream, it’s my hope that each of you find a tune to hum that brings you laughter to lighten your journey wherever it is you’re going.”

Award winners

Faculty Award for Citizenship: Oliver Chantler

Service to the School Community: Molly Blakslee

Scholar Athlete Awards: Olivia Holguin, Becker Robert Dienst

Faculty Award for Outstanding Evidence of Intellectual Curiosity: Jessica Sherpa

Sally Johnston Award: Hayley Bill


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