Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy graduates 29; Jerry Springer gives commencement speech |

Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy graduates 29; Jerry Springer gives commencement speech

Adapting to pandemic restrictions, Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy seniors view their virtual graduation ceremony from the Blue Starlite drive-in movie theater Saturday in Minturn.
Chris Dillmann |

MINTURN — Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy graduated 29 seniors on Saturday in a virtual graduation ceremony viewed on screen at the Blue Starlite drive-in movie theater.

The ski academy is an Eagle County Schools magnet school for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, which uses it as a solution to the complications and expense of participating in high-level snowsports competition while attending class.

The seniors celebrated on Saturday were the 11th graduating class the school has seen through, and included US Ski & Snowboard team members Trent Pennington and Jack Coyne.

Talent showcase

In Saturday’s virtual commencement address, Coyne delivered a speech along with senior Cleo Braun; in it they reflected on their years at the academy.

“Our school’s unique flexibility had allowed us to follow our dreams, while getting a strong education,” Coyne said.

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He then deadpanned: “Well maybe not too strong. Our valedictorian misspelled college while decorating her cap.”

The speech itself, however, was a demonstration of an aspect of the education the young student-athletes like Coyne did receive. Poised, with flawless deliveries and good editing on their video, Coyne and Braun showed how capable they were of handling something as unexpected as a virtual graduation. Their jokes hit well and the segment was polished and professional.

And they had a tough act to follow in someone with a wealth of broadcast experience. Coyne and Braun’s classmate, Henry Strauch, secured a top-level talent to deliver the commencement address.

Strauch’s great uncle is Jerry Springer, although to Strauch he’s not Jerry, he’s “Uncle Gerald.”

“Many may know him as the king of trash television, but it is easily seen that there is so much more to this kind-hearted intellectual that there just isn’t enough time to truly appreciate him,” Strauch said.

Jerry gives speech to skiers

Springer said he was honored by the invitation and saddened by the fact that he could not travel to the ceremony in person.

“Graduates throughout the country, in fact graduates throughout the world, who have traditionally been handed an invitation to join the world, today instead are being handed a blank slate,” Springer said. “We’re starting from scratch, and you and your generation will, by necessity, be called upon to create, in a sense, a whole new society.”

While the speech, at times, may have felt like one of Springer’s “final thoughts” from his namesake show, much of Springer’s words rung more in tune with his editorial form of the 1980s, when he was a news anchor for WLWT in Cincinnati.

In Strauch’s introduction, he gave his classmates some insight into Springer’s motivation for joining the WLWT news team.

“He said he would only take (the anchor position) if he could do his own political commentary as well,” Strauch said.

In a position where opinions are often shunned in an effort to keep up an appearance of objectivity, Springer had instead created a space where discussion on public issues was part of the program. On Saturday, Springer encouraged Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy seniors to also find a way to get involved in public issues.

Springer called life “a gift we had nothing to do with,” saying Bill Gates would have been dead if he were born in Ethiopia rather than the United States.

“And when we receive such a gift as life, we say thank you,” Springer said. “And the way you say think you — particularly those of us lucky enough to be living life in this wonderful America, with the means to really enjoy it — the way we say thank you is to give something back to the community. To lend a helping hand to those that didn’t get as lucky a roll of the dice as we did. So I say to you, be determined to give something back. Get involved in public issues. Yes, to take care of yourself, but for God’s sake, let’s take care of each other.”

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