Vail Mountain School commencement embraces future, as well as past
VAIL — A Vail Mountain School commencement is a look back and a confident stride into the graduates’ futures.
They don’t wear their caps and gowns into Vail’s Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. The graduates walk in and their mortarboards are carried in by loved ones the graduates choose, someone younger who’ll take that commencement walk before too long.
They pull on the gowns, don the mortarboards and after a little last-minute fussing by their helper, they take their place on the stage where so many graduates have gone before. Flinn Lazier, for example, was capped and gowned and fussed over by his younger sister Jacqueline.
Their diplomas are awarded by their families, “our No. 1 support group,” said Maddie Donovan. Their parents even turned their tassels.
Vail Mountain School has been part of the community fabric since it began with Vail kids crowded around the Seibert family’s dining room table in 1962.
It has lived in a log cabin above the fire station and a couple of other locations around town. The good stuff hasn’t changed.
Graduate after graduate, student after student talked about their VMS family. Like all families, they sometimes quarrel. But make no mistake, they’re in this together.
Scarlet McCauley performed an original composition, “Cest la Vie,” a musical reflection of what they’re leaving, but a look forward into an exciting future.
They’re the first class to complete all 13 years in the new building.
“This means a large portion of our class has been together since kindergarten,” said Sam Shay. Sixteen, in fact, of 43 members of the VMS Class of 2017.
Along the way, they got most stuff right … but not everything.
“We dedicate this graduation to making mistakes,” said Luke McKeever.
In middle school, they became known as The Bad Class for what we’ll call their spirited and independent outlook on life.
But they were nothing like bad, despite what they might have been told in the lectures they received following some display of independence … oh so many lectures.
They pushed boundaries.
They were unorthodox.
“We may have taken a few missteps along the way, but we were not bad,” McKeever said. “We have learned which boundaries to push and which boundaries to avoid.
“Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has those days,” McKeever said, quoting that noted philosopher Hannah Montana.
After their mistakes, they learned to pick themselves up and move on, McKeever said.
Katie Alonzo, from the Class of 2018, told the class of 2017 that conformity is vastly overrated.
“Seniors, I don’t think any of you are in danger of conforming,” Alonzo said.
Traditions and buddies
At Vail Mountain School, kindergartners have a senior buddy who helps them adjust to both life in school and to life in general. Graduate Sydney Sappenfield recalled her senior buddy and welcomed the kindergartners to the stage as each continued the VMS time-honored tradition of delivering a yellow rose to their own senior buddy.
The years were marked again as Kellyn Peck, Jack Schwartz, Marnina Seller, Griffin O’Connell and Reed McInerny welcomed the new middle schoolers.
Kaitlyn Harty, Nicole Wilson, Erik Zdechlik, Peter Mitchell and Spencer Tyson welcomed middle schoolers into upper school.
Sally Johnston has remained part of VMS for more than 20 years after her own sons graduated. She presented the award named for her to Sappenfield, who’s headed to Johns Hopkins.
Taft Conlin would have graduated with this class. He died in a Vail Mountain in-bounds avalanche when he was 13. His parents, Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Steve Conlin, established a scholarship in their son’s honor. Kevin Garcia was able to attend VMS on that scholarship and told Friday’s crowd that his time at VMS has and will continue to change his life for the better.
Luke Veratti said that life in Happy Valley can sometimes seem too good to be real. But it is real.
“We compete and succeed against schools much larger than ours. We travel to far-off lands to study other cultures … There’s a lot going on inside our little bubble,” Veratti said. “We are a group that heads our separate ways with a thirst for knowledge and plenty of grit that will serve us well.”
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.