Vail Mountain School grads celebrate old, new traditions |

Vail Mountain School grads celebrate old, new traditions

Vail Mountain School Class of 2014 graduate Taylor Washing sniffs a rose given to her by the kindergartners of Vail Mountain School during VMS's graduation ceremony in Vail on Friday.
Chris Dillmann | Special to the Daily |

VAIL — Vail Mountain School’s commencement opened with a metaphor and a fact.

The graduates strode in, dressed in suits and dresses, followed by someone they selected to help them with their caps and gowns.

That’s the metaphor that built around this fact. They didn’t get here by themselves, and they know that.

It’s a decades-old VMS tradition. Here’s another.

Older VMS students mentor younger students by being reading buddies and in all sorts of other ways. After a couple speeches Friday, the kindergarten class continued another charming tradition, presenting a yellow rose to each of the graduates.

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Then there’s this one. When it’s time, each graduate’s family comes to the stage, presents the diplomas to their graduate and turns their tassels.

Headmaster Michael Imperi launched a new tradition, the Sally Johnston Distinguished Senior Award, “the highest honor bestowed on a graduating senior,” Imperi said.

“The recipient will embody the very heart and soul of Sally Johnston, integrity, grit, compassion, athleticism and so much more,” Imperi said.

“This year’s winner of the Sally Johnston Distinguished Award will next fall grace the halls of Yale University, Maddi Conlin.”

Harrison Alonzo welcomed parents and family who have traveled from 25 states and two foreign countries to be there for Friday’s commencement.

People came from all over, and VMS graduates will go everywhere.

Members of the Class of 2014 are being admitted into 81 colleges and universities in 12 different states and one foreign country.

Ten graduates have attended VMS since kindergarten. That means they have spent 333,237.05 hours at Vail Mountain School, Alonzo pointed out as the crowd chuckled.

And while they’ve been at VMS for all that time, they’ve also developed a wide ranging world view, mostly by volunteering — giving when there’s nothing to get back.

“Living in a small and seemingly peaceful community, it is easy to fall under the notion that there are no issues to address,” Mitch Saalfeld said. “It takes a volunteer to understand that there is always progress to be made, and will constantly donate their time and effort to slowly improve the community and environment around them.”


They bloomed where they were planted, a sometimes-hostile Rocky Mountain environment, and that mindset led them to their class gift, a crab apple tree.

Crab apple trees can thrive in places where growing seasons are sometimes measured in minutes, yet are strong and beautiful.

“The crab apple tree seemed an appropriate pick for our occasionally uncultivated but immeasurably strong class,” Hana Barclay said.

Academics goes hand-in-hand with the arts and athletics.

“Our education here at VMS is not solely based on academic classes or how many A’s you achieve throughout your four years in high school. Students are pushed to think creatively, to harness their passions and express themselves through the arts,” Stephanie Kohlhofer said.

This year, VMS had its first winning basketball season in the four years Danny Travers has played.

“Not only will I remember the accomplishment I felt as an individual and as a member of a team, but I will remember the laughs we shared,” Travers said.

“My hope for this class is that you will all remain the individual trailblazers I have known you to be,” Kristen Vossler said in her message to the senior class. “You may not be the best at everything and your dreams or major may change. As Stephen Colbert said, ‘If we all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.’”

“So I encourage you to keep trying new things and find something you absolutely love doing. Be yourself, and continue to stand out as the leaders you have grown to become,” Vossler said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail

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