Vail Christian graduates reflect on adversity as they forge forward
EDWARDS — As they gathered to celebrate their graduation ceremony Saturday morning, the 28 members of the Vail Christian High School Class of 2017 heard expected messages about achievement, camaraderie and expectations.
But a central theme of their ceremony addressed adversity — encountering it, surviving it and ultimately growing from it. It’s a theme this particular group of students faced directly during the past two weeks.
Adversity is key
Retired U.S. Army Col. Patricia Collins delivered the commencement address. Collins is a 24-year Army veteran who now serves as a leadership consultant, motivational speaker and coach. She retired from the Army after 24 years of active duty which included deployments to the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Collins told the story of how in 2006, she was riding her bike to work when she was hit by a car and seriously injured. In 2007, she elected to have her left leg amputated below the knee in an effort to regain more mobility.
“With my leg, God took other things,” she told the graduates. Those ‘things’ included impatience and judgment. In their place she found empathy and purpose.
Collins rehabilitated while continuing to serve in her unit of assignment, returning to running and parachuting within six months of her surgery. She remained an active duty service member for another nine years.
And then, in 2015, Collins dreamed a big dream. “I felt like God was telling me to train for the Paralympics,” she told the graduates.
She committed herself to that effort, seeing incremental increases in her training and downward movement in her bank account. But ultimately she earned a spot to compete as a triathlete for the 2016 Rio games. She noted the perfect ending to her story would have found her with a gold medal around her neck, draped in an American flag.
“I had a journey of meeting people from all over the world and sharing my message,” said Collins. “That was my podium performance.”
She warned the Class of 2017 that they were all going to fail, and fail large, during their lives. But ultimately, she noted, success comes at the edge of those failures. She urged the graduates to surround themselves with people they care about, cultivate great attitudes, practice humility, continually challenge themselves and most importantly, have faith.
During the dark days of her recovery, Collins said that last piece of advice was hard to live. But after facing her personal adversities, she discovered its truth.
“My bag of gold is so heavy and so is yours,” she told the graduates. “As hard as things may seem, you have a great life.”
Those were words the VCHS graduates may have needed to hear, two weeks after one of their own lost her father in a tragic accident. Sophia Walder was the class salutatorian, and she concluded her remarks telling her classmates “Today I stand here feeling more loved than I ever thought possible, especially during the past two weeks.”
Emma Cerovich, the VCHS Class of 2017 valedictorian, also spoke of the tight bonds the 28 members of the class have forged. She challenged her classmates to take that energy out into the world. “Lets go live with the full intention to love,” said Cerovich.
And with that challenge laid down, VCHS Head of School Steve O’Neil sent the graduates off with the words of a familiar Irish blessing:
“May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.