Vail Mountain School celebrates commencement with 40 grads
VAIL — The seniors of the Vail Mountain School entered the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater to receive their gowns and mortarboards from their respective honor guards, aka close friends, to start Friday, May, 25’s commencement ceremonies and left — 40 strong — as the Class of 2018.
With a mix of music from the Beetles to Handel, the newest alumni from the Mountain School celebrated their experiences and lessons learned with laughter and tears in front of a throng of family and friends with cell phones snapping quietly, recording every moment.
“Our class is much like the John Hughes movie, ‘The Breakfast Club,’” senior Emily Calarco said in her welcoming speech. “We are a group of passionate individuals: dancers, thespians, engineers, comedians, poets, musicians, athletes, artists, scholars, scientists, travelers, outdoor enthusiasts and classmates.”
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Traditions and lessons
Since the Vail Mountain School is a K-12 educational institution, all levels of the school were involved in Friday’s ceremony. Every senior at the school has a “buddy” in kindergarten, and the members of the Class of 2030 — staggering as that sounds — presented their counterparts in the Class of 2018 with yellow roses.
As also is tradition, the fifth-graders and eighth-graders received their certificates of promotion to middle school and upper school respectively.
While eighth-grader turning into high school freshman Camille Johnson was speaking of awkward middle-school days, her words certainly rang true for the Class of 2018.
“We are all failures,” she said. “The eighth-grade class has broken dress code, conjugated verbs incorrectly, stayed up too late the night before a test and argued with friends. We have horribly messed up science projects, and protested things we didn’t understand. However, there is a Chinese proverb that reads, ‘Fall seven times; stand up eight.’”
The participation of students in commencement from kindergarten to senior is by design. Those who attend the Mountain School from kindergarten through high school are known as the Thirteeners. Jordan Harrison, Cole Davis, Julian Nisonoff and Marc Philippon Jr. are this year’s 13ers, who once were the kindergartners giving roses to seniors and receiving their promotion certificates to middle school and high school.
“While reflecting on the past 13 years, I definitely get nostalgic, longing for the old days, but I’ve also realized we’re ready for something new,” Harrison said. “While there is more hard work to be had in the future, we should be proud of what we have accomplished to this point and indulge in the celebration.”
And the diplomas
In keeping with another Vail Mountain School tradition, head of school Michael Imperi does not hand out the diplomas. Family members of the graduates come to the stage to present them.
“Nobody on this stage today got here alone,” senior Sophie Daniel said. “We have received a lot of support both behind the scenes and in more overt ways. I speak for my classmates in thanking our parents for their gifts of time, infinite patience, wisdom, humor and generosity.”
Mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins did the honors of turning the tassels of the Class of 2018, complete with high-fives, handshakes and group hugs. In a unique twist, the graduates often receive their sheepskins from an older sibling who is already a Vail Mountain alumnus/alumna or a younger sibling who likely will follow in the graduate’s footsteps.
And when all 40 students had come forward, Imperi said, “With great pride, I present you the Vail Mountain School Class of 2018.”
Awards for students and teachers
As with any graduation, awards were a part of the festivities. Trace Landreth accepted the Headmaster’s Award for Outstanding Evidence of Intellectual Curiosity. The Headmaster’s Award for Citizenship went to Shane Cole.
Olivia Manula and Katie Alonzo were honored for Recognition for Service to the School Community. Chloe Pesso and Jordan Harrison took home the Scholar Athlete Awards.
Sally Johnston bestowed her eponymous award to Marc Philippon Jr. Longtime science teacher Ross Sappenfield was named as the Oliver Compton Teacher of the Year with Compton in attendance. Members of the administrative staff Becca Hopper and Jeremy Thelen were recognized for their 10 years of service to the school.
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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.