Vail Mountain School gives seniors a unique send-off |

Vail Mountain School gives seniors a unique send-off

Graduation replaced by drive-in celebration and 'conferring of diplomas'

At its core, a graduation ceremony is a celebration of accomplishment and a chance to share good wishes for the future.

Vail Mountain School on Saturday honored its 30-member class of 2020 with those core elements in a ceremony unique in the school’s history.

This wasn’t a graduation as such, but a “conferring of diplomas.” Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, graduates and families stayed in cars in the parking lot. Speakers came to the outdoor podium one by one, each taking a disinfectant wipe to clean the podium and microphone for the next speaker.

Each address was met with horn-honking worthy of a tailgate party or drive-in theater. Of course, tailgate parties and drive-ins don’t often feature classical music before and after the main event.

After brief addresses by Head of School Michael Imperi and several students in the class, students and parents walked one family at a time to the cabin on the north side of the school’s athletic field. There, a small table held the diplomas. Students turned their tassels, rang the vintage railroad bell on the cabin’s porch, then strolled back to their cars.

Support Local Journalism

Starting and finishing

Also at the table was a vase holding 30 yellow roses. Those roses are usually presented to seniors by members of the school’s kindergarten class.

In her address, Isabella Tonazzi said the bond between the seniors and the kindergarteners is one of the important things about having all grades in the same school.

“As their eyes look up to us, they show us how fun the little things can be and to take life less seriously sometimes,” Tonazzi said, adding that as the school year went on, some seniors found role models in their younger buddies.

This year’s class included seven students who had spent their entire academic career at Vail Mountain School. In her address, “13er” Charlotte Parker talked about the ways parts of her classmates’ kindergarten personalities persisted throughout their time at the school.

“I have loved going through each year with our little original group to welcome all the new additions that we have gotten over the years who add so much to our grade and our community,” Parker said. “I can’t wait to see where my other 13ers end up.”

Onto the next chapter

Part of the core of graduation is the bittersweet realization that it’s now time for a new chapter in life.

For this year’s seniors, that new chapter started in March, when the school building closed. Studies shifted to homes, and the social element of school ended with almost no warning.

Nico O’Connell’s address reflected on a surpassingly strange end to the school year.

The day the closure announcement was made, seniors were “crying left and right,” O’Connell said.

“Senior year has really changed the dynamic of our class,” O’Connell said. “It united us even with all of our cliques and wild personalities.”

After the diplomas were conferred and tassels turned, a caravan of cars, many decorated and most drivers honking joyfully, left the parking lot and drove this year’s seniors off into their next great adventures.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at

Support Local Journalism