Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy graduates its class of 2021
Among the 20 graduates are alpine skiers, snowboarders, aspiring musicians, videographers, water skiers, mountain bikers and even the school’s first competitive swimmer
For a multitude of reasons, the 20 graduating seniors of Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy’s class of 2021 can consider this year one of many successes. On Friday, students, friends, family and school staff all gathered in-person — and without masks — at 4 Eagle Ranch to celebrate the graduation of this year’s seniors.
The 2021 class of graduates has not only spent the past four years learning how to balance sport, school and home life, but they navigated the pandemic world with the same flexibility and dedication it takes to be a successful student athlete.
And after a year of navigating a global pandemic, it’s a huge victory for the seniors to graduate in person. Something that at the beginning of the year — when the school had a COVID-19 outbreak and had to quarantine 115 students — seemed unlikely. Following the outbreak, many of the seniors stayed remote until the last three weeks of the school year in an effort protect their ski and sport seasons.
As Principal Wade Hill reflected on the year, he noted that we are living — and have lived — through a historic time. Going forward, he said to the graduates: “We need you to do better.”
“I’m not too sure that we did a good job this year, we as decision makers. We didn’t believe in each other enough, didn’t find our common story to rally around, and I think maybe paid for it dearly,” Hill said. “I think you’re an exceptional group of young people and I know based on the character of the individuals in those chairs right there, I have a ton of faith we’re in good hands. Remember the collective ‘we.’ We need you and we need each other.”
This group of uniquely talented and competitive students all come together to form a “one-of-a-kind community,” according to Fletcher Holm and Joseph Greenblatt, who gave the reflection speech at Friday’s commencement. This community not only banded together to survive a pandemic, but to survive their years — be it seven years or one year — at Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.
“Our ability to stay strongly together during such tough times solidified our unique chemistry as a class and as a school,” Greenblatt said. “It was remarkable to watch the things we were able to get done even with all the restrictions and problems that we ran into everyday. Whether it was logging onto Zoom from home or joining from Florida at the poolside, we learned to take the good with the bad.”
And as the graduates’ community of family, friends, peers, teachers and staff gathered — all together, in person for the first time in awhile — the importance and significance of this community was not lost on anyone.
“VSSA has produced world-class athletes and champions. I believe this is the start of a positive feedback loop. When you see an Olympic athlete walking down the hall it makes you think, ‘Huh, maybe I could do that.’ That is powerful,” said Declan Gore during his speech at the graduation ceremony. “Seeing a peer do incredible things ignites us to go and also do incredible things.”
One of the themes at graduation was the power of dreams, and how Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy uniquely enables students to pursue theirs. Or as Gore put it, “VSSA is more than an athletics-oriented school. VSSA is a dream-oriented school.”
And for many of the students, attending VSSA was a dream in and of itself.
“People dream of attending a sports school like VSSA, and luckily, we are able to live the dream thanks each and every one of you,” said Gabriella Holm, in her closing speech given with fellow graduate, Tegan Large.
This year’s members of the Class of 2021 are bound for big things. Among the 20 graduates are Alpine skiers, snowboarders, aspiring musicians, videographers, water skiers, mountain bikers and even the school’s first competitive swimmer, Kylee Smith. And as they head off into the rest of their lives, they feel prepared based on the lessons learned at the Academy.
“VSSA gave us the blueprint: the courage to believe that it’s possible, the commitment to do the hard work that’s necessary and the character to persevere for the time that it takes to succeed,” Gore said. “I am optimistic about the future of mankind. I’m also optimistic about the future of this class.”
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.