Vail Valley: ‘Long voyage’ ends in success |

Vail Valley: ‘Long voyage’ ends in success

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyRed Canyon graduate Joann Avendano, right, kisses her 6month old son Ricky Avendano, left, after recieving her high school diploma Wednesday at the Red Canyon High School graduation ceremony at 4 Eagle Ranch.

WOLCOTT – With tears in her eyes, 17-year-old Karla Chavez accepted her diploma Friday from the Vail Valley’s Red Canyon High School.

She then hugged her nearly 2-year-old son, Edgar, and her husband.

It was a poignant moment for the graduate, especially because she had faced her share of challenges getting to the stage.

“It’s just something you can’t really describe,” she said.

The Edwards resident said she had struggled to balance school and raising her son, but persevered and finished school. She will be studying business at Colorado Mountain College. Chavez received a full ride to the school, earning the Alpine Bank Colorado Mountain College Latino/Hispanic Scholars award.

“It’s amazing. I’m so grateful,” she said. “Without the scholarship I probably wouldn’t have started [school].”

Thirty five students graduated from Red Canyon High School Friday during the school’s ninth commencement ceremony at the 4Eagle Ranch in Wolcott.

Many of the students at the alternative high school, which has locations in Edwards and Eagle, had overcome significant challenges during their school careers. Some lived on their own, while other were raising children or working full-time while attending classes.

“For them, I think it’s been a long voyage,” Principal Wade Hill said. “Today they overcame that.”

As 19-year-old Eddie Nevarez walked onto the stage in his cap and gown, a man from a nearby U.S. Marines recruiting office applauded in the audience. Nevarez enlisted in the Marines in November and will be heading to boot camp in August.

“Since I was a little kid, I always imagined myself as a soldier,” Nevarez said.

Graduating high school got Nevarez one step closer to that dream. But he said high school was a “tough road.”

The Dotsero resident said he enrolled in Red Canyon High School after getting arrested for vandalism and kicked out of a different high school. He ran into financial troubles and said he struggled to find a ride to school during much of his senior year.

A smile crossed his face as he accepted his diploma.

“It’s really big to me,” he said. “I honestly didn’t even think I was going to graduate this year.”

Graduation was a proud day for Joann Avendano as well. The 19-year-old Avon resident has two children, 2-year-old Melanie and 6-month-old Ricky. She said she dropped out of school four different times but experienced a remarkable turnaround.

“I just changed my life, a 360,” she said. “I decided to buckle down. Mr. Hill, no matter how bad I messed up, he took me back and said I could be somebody.”

Avendano has already started classes at Westwood College in Denver, where she studies criminal justice. Avendano wants to become a youth probation officer.

“I believe that you can change kids before they become adults,” she said. “If I make a difference in one of the kids’ lives, I know I made a difference.”

On a warm, sunny day, with snow-capped mountains forming a backdrop in the distance, several people spoke during the ceremony.

Hill paid tribute to Scott Reiter, a Red Canyon alumn who died in rafting accident earlier this month. Hill read excerpts from the keynote address Reiter delivered at the high school last year.

This year’s keynote speaker was Lance Carl, director of student outreach for College in Colorado. He urged students to pursue what they are passionate about, no matter what that might be.

“Along your path to discovery, your path to success, you’ve got to have three things … You’ve got to work harder than the guy next to you. You’ve got to be patient – not taking a dead-end job, not taking a year off school, and perseverance when adversity and obstacles hit,” Carl said.

“Each and every one of you, by taking this step across the stage today, has the opportunity to become the person you want to be.”

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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