Red Canyon High School celebrates the perseverance, resiliency of its 2023 graduates |

Red Canyon High School celebrates the perseverance, resiliency of its 2023 graduates

A total of 50 students receive diplomas

Will Belisle addresses the Class of 2023 for Red Canyon High School and World Academy on Friday in Wolcott. Belisle won multiple scholarships and awards.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily
By the numbers • 30: Graduates in the Red Canyon High School class of 2023. • 15: Students in the World Academy graduating class of 2023. • 5: Students graduated with a High School Equivalency diploma.

WOLCOTT — Most high school seniors put in a lot of work before turning their tassels from left to right on graduation day. But graduation is a little sweeter for graduates of Red Canyon High School.

A total of 50 students gathered Friday at 4 Eagle Ranch for the alternative high school’s graduation ceremony. Those who go to Red Canyon find success that often eludes them in conventional schools.

Graduate Calvin Parrish talked about the importance of alternative schools while the assembled friends and family members basked in the morning sun.

Parrish noted that the Colorado Department of Education’s definition of alternative schools include “high-risk” students including dropouts, drug users and those with mental disorders.

Parrish acknowledged that many students fall into those categories, “because we’ve struggled, we’ve faltered, we’ve made mistakes.”

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But, he added, while the state bureaucracy feels “that our mistakes define us, the schools we attend see us as people.”

That personal touch was noted by many of those who spoke. So was the idea of resilience in the face of adversity.

Keynote speaker Devon Sullivan, an Americorps service member who spent the last school year at Red Canyon, encouraged graduates to be as strong out of school as they were while they were students.

Devon Sullivan of AmeriCorps gives the keynote speech Friday at 4 Eagle Ranch near Wolcott.

“You are more than just a student who went to an alternative school,” Sullivan said. “You are a person who has defied all odds. … Never give up.”

Graduate Will Belisle’s address noted some of what students have had to overcome to get to graduation day.

“You know how our parents said they had to walk uphill both ways to go to school or walk 20 miles barefoot, right? Well, we went to school during a pandemic,” he said. “It really hit us freshmen like a freight train.”

Nash Reyes gives the opening address at Friday’s commencement for Red Canyon High School and World Academy in Wolcott.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

But the students persevered and were resilient, Belisle added.

“We’re the students that have been pushed out by other school communities for whatever reason, but we always bounce back,” Belisle continued.

That resilience was rewarded with scholarships for a number of students, but also with a long line of congratulations as the students were given their diplomas.

Principal Troy Dudley — who’s retiring this year — greeted each graduate, and each was introduced by a faculty member.

One teacher, Greg Anderson, recalled that he’d made a bet with Savanah Cooke when she was a sophomore. Anderson at the time bet that if Cooke graduated, he’d replace his worn, dirty ball cap — a cap that a sane person would only handle with surgical gloves.

As Cooke crossed the stage, Anderson pulled out and put on a new cap.

Morgan Friel gives the closing speech Friday in Wolcott to send off the Class of 2023 for Red Canyon High School and World Academy.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

There were handshakes, hugs and cheers as graduates crossed the stage, congratulated by members of the Eagle County Board of Education and the entire faculty of Red Canyon. Graduate Nash Reyes danced on the stage waiting for her name to be called.

While the graduates are done with classes, they may not be done with Red Canyon.

Red Canyon alums Wilbur and Natalie Mendez graduated a number of years ago, but have since established a scholarship fund for students. The name, appropriately, is the “Encourage YOU Scholarship.”

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