Onto the next adventure: Vail Mountain School graduates Class of 2023
42 graduates receive their diplomas at commencement ceremony at Ford Amphitheater
VAIL — Vail Mountain School celebrated its Class of 2023 on Friday afternoon at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater as families, friends, teachers and classmates gathered to celebrate the graduating seniors and provide them a proper sendoff into the next chapters of their lives.
Throughout the commencement ceremony that wrapped Vail Mountain School’s 60th year, the 42 graduates sat on Ford Amphitheater’s stage adorned in blue regalia. Steve Bileca opened the ceremony with words of welcome in what was his first Vail Mountain School graduation since he was appointed head of the school last July. Bileca turned the microphone over to the students, who led most of the commencement traditions, including distributing awards to fellow graduates and teachers.
During the ceremony, graduating seniors recognized the Vail Mountain School faculty who have been with the school for 10 years: Upper School math and science teacher Samuel Rosenkrantz, Upper School Spanish teacher Andrew Behrendt, Upper School English teacher Julia Walsh, Lower School director of administration Jennifer Bill, fourth and fifth grade writing teacher Andrew Lambert, and kindergarten teacher Jessica Szmyd.
Upper School English department chair Laura Mortensen was the last faculty member to be recognized at the graduation ceremony — but certainly not the least. Mortensen was this year’s recipient of the Oliver Compton Teacher of the Year award.
Graduating seniors presented their classmates with student awards as well. Senior Serena Pillsbury received the Faculty Award for Citizenship and was regarded as a pillar of character at Vail Mountain School. She was also recognized as the founder of the school’s good-vibe tribe, the “hype squad.”
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Graduating seniors Ellie Drescher and Emily Law received the awards for Service to the School Community. Both Drescher and Law have made meaningful contributions to the school and the community, said graduating senior Jasper Johnson, who presented the awards. When Drescher “sees a need, she jumps in with enthusiasm and an open heart, wanting to put others’ needs before her own,” Johnson said. And Law “approaches every day with the growth mindset and inspires others to do the same,” Johnson said.
The Vail Mountain School Scholar Athlete Award was presented to Liv Moritz, the captain of the soccer team who was named Western Slope Player of the Year.
Graduating senior Izzy Glackin presented the school’s Intellectual Curiosity award to Eddie Alrick for his unwavering drive and ambition, and how he continuously pushes himself to excel in his studies.
Senior Frankie Marston was awarded the school’s most prestigious award for graduates: The Sally Johnston Distinguished Senior Award, named after the longtime Vail Mountain School Board of Trustees member.
“This award was established in Mrs. Johnston’s name to honor her years of service to the school and her many contributions to the Board of Trustees,” Alrick said during Friday’s ceremony. “As such, this award is given to a student who exemplifies the Vail Mountain School mission: to develop character, to seek knowledge, and to build community.”
In his speech, Alrick said Marston epitomizes what it means to “make the most of it,” as she remained wholeheartedly involved in the classroom as well as outside of it, having joined several clubs and organizations, captained multiple sports teams, and remained engaged in school and community-wide events.
Marston was also selected by her classmates to provide a speech. In her address to the Class of 2023, Marston said that the commencement ceremony, while serving as an indicator of the close of student’s time at Vail Mountain School, is also an opportunity for students to reminisce on “wonderful memories and silly stories” that capture the essence of being a Vail Mountain School graduate.
Marston shared fond memories of all-school ski days, which involved senior students leading a group of students of varying ages “in hopes of fostering the enthusiasm and love our grade has shared for the slopes and outdoors in the younger generation.”
She also said having the younger students around for activities and events such as all-school ski days and Wednesday morning dance parties reminds the older kids to not take everything so seriously and to have some fun when they can. Marston remembered her all-school ski day group’s hunt for the “Ooga Booga Monster” as one of those sillier — and lasting — memories.
“We held our ski poles sticking out of our helmets like search antennas and shouted at the top of our lungs, ‘Ooga Booga, Ooga Booga’ as Grace, (a kindergartener), led our house group on a search for the mystical, magical, never seen before, Ooga Booga Monster,” Marston said.
Marston encouraged her classmates to embrace their childlike imaginations in the next chapters of their lives. She prompted the seniors to look to their youngest classmates for inspiration.
“Our kinder buddies have demonstrated their willingness to take risks as they jump at every opportunity because nothing can be too silly,” Marston said. “Taking risks will not always look like standing on the edge of Chair 4 cliffs, but this courage is also seen through being unapologetically you.”
In her speech, Marston also honored former classmate Emily Francoise, who attended Vail Mountain School from kindergarten through her junior year. During an outing with classmates in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps in March, an avalanche took the 18-year-old’s life.
“Emily is not with us in person here today, but pieces of her legacy are ingrained in our accumulation of shared childhood memories,” Marston said. “From the first time we followed her fearless leadership in our kindergarten play, the ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff’, to her continued support she demonstrated with her plans to surprise us all at ‘Footloose’ this year.”
Alongside traditional challenges seniors face, Marston spoke on her class and Vail Mountain School’s shared challenge of navigating grief.
“Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, our class has depended on each other throughout the unfamiliarity of grief,” Marston said.
Graduating senior Emily Law said that the 2023 Vail Mountain School graduation ceremony was dedicated to Francoise.
“I ask all of you to keep living for her,” Law said. “Live your lives to the fullest every day to honor her beautiful memory and remember her laugh, enthusiasm, independence and grace.
Francoise’s memory was honored by the Vail Mountain School Class of 2023 several ways during Friday’s ceremony. A flower vase decorated with fingerprints of each of the seniors was placed on the stage for Francoise, Law said. Additionally, the AP music theory class composed of graduating seniors performed an original piece dedicated to Francoise.
After the graduating class said their goodbyes to their Vail Mountain School classmates of all ages, Bileca called the seniors’ families to the stage to present the graduates with their diplomas.
Then, Bileca presented the Vail Mountain School class of 2023 to the audience and addressed the graduates one last time. He wished the seniors all the best in all their endeavors, saying he hopes each graduate lives their lives “deeply and fully in college and beyond.” Then Bileca sent the graduates out into the world with a final wish for their futures:
“May your desire to learn never be quenched and may you come back home often — to your families and to us at VMS,” Bileca said.
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