Vail Christian hosts in-person, in-car Class of 2020 commencement
Champions adjust: Vail Christian sets new standard for graduation creativity
EDWARDS — Champions adapt, and Saturday’s Vail Christian High School’s in-person, in-car commencement was a glorious example.
Most people are looking for their place in this world. Vail Christian High School graduates had theirs Saturday, a parking place marked with signs emblazoned with their names where they would enjoy the ceremony in their cars with families and friends.
Much like the graduates themselves, it was unique. The Eagle County Public Health department gave the school a special dispensation with a few simple rules: Gather in the parking lot.
Family and friends stayed in the car. Graduates could leave the car to receive their diplomas because it’s their day and they’re special. And of course family and friends applauded as they honked their car horns.
Programs came in sealed plastic wrappers, handed out by glove-wearing people smiling from behind masks.
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Another Greatest Generation
The Vail Christian High School Class of 2020 is 32 young people for whom the future is truly bright, said Steve O’Neil, head of school.
“We are pioneers, the very first graduation out of the gate,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil called himself “a nostalgic sap.”
“I looked at your freshman photos. I found myself proud and sad. There’s also a side of me that’s ticked off that you lost your fourth quarter as it was supposed to be. We’re in a fight with coronavirus. We’re not playing defense we’re playing offense. We’re going to win,” ‘Neil said.
O’Neil drew comparisons between the Class of 2020 and previous classes that graduated into an uncertain world. The Class of 1919 graduated into a world where one third of world would be inflicted with the Spanish flu. The Class of 1934 entered a world where 30% of the workforce was unemployed. The Class of 1942 graduated into the battles of World War II.
“They knew how to overcome, how to lead. They became the Greatest Generation. You can become that type of generation, too,” O’Neil said.
It’s life and opportunity
Valedictorian Izzy Richie looked across the cars containing her classmates and flashed a smile as bright as the morning sun.
“It’s strange giving a speech in our school parking lot. It’s not what I imagined, but I am beyond grateful to have this opportunity,” Richie said.
There’s no way to know everything, Richie said, but life has a way of teaching us. A couple months ago she was pulled over speeding. When the officer asked for her license and registration, she realized she did not know what her registration looked like. She worked through a stack of papers from her glove compartment until the officer smiled and told her she’d found it.
“You’ll have hardships, but it’s just life. None of the feelings of uncertainty can take away all the joy it has to offer,” Richie said.
Keynote speaker, adventurer Eric Alexander, has climbed mountains both real and metaphorical. He led his blind friend Erik Weihenmayer to the Mount Everest summit and fell 150 feet from the Himalayan mountain on which they were training. He landed on a ledge, which kept him from falling another 500 feet to his death. That ledge, he said, felt like the hand of God holding him when he hit it.
He has climbed six of the Seven Summits, leading a person with a disability to the summit of each.
“I’ve climbed all over the world with people who’ve been knocked flat,” Alexander said, adding that sometimes we all get knocked flat.
Sometimes life will rob us of prom dates, athletic achievements … all kinds of things.
“What do you do when you’ve been robbed? Keep looking up, keep trusting God and persevere,” Alexander said.
His climbing partner and prayer partner died in an East Vail snowboarding accident. Alexander found him the next morning, dead, upside down and buried in the snow.
He recalled his doubts when he was on Everest, leading Weihenmayer to the top.
“I don’t know if I’m strong enough to get to the top, but I know I’m strong enough to help you get there,” Alexander told Weihenmayer. “It was my blind friend’s courage and my deceased friend’s belief in me that helped me walk through that door.”
There are doers and doubters in this world.
“Doers are powered by faith and doubters by fear,” Alexander said. “Courageously we walk by faith. Opportunities to sit on the curb and put aside your faith will endlessly present themselves.”
“Champions adjust. I still yell that at myself,” Alexander said.
“Class of 2020, you have the hearts of champions. Remember, champions don’t give up. Champions adjust,” he said.