Hugs and smiles were everywhere. Teachers, students and family members tearing up were easy to find.
About 150 people attended the graduation ceremony for Snowy Peaks High School Thursday, May 22, at the Frisco Community and Senior Center.
Snowy Peaks High School is in its third year as Summit School District’s alternative high school. It offers a smaller, more personalized setting for students who struggle through the traditional school system.
Principal Brett Tomlinson said each of the 17 graduating students overcame personal hardships to earn his or her degree. Some faced challenges like full-time jobs, expensive commutes or unsupportive relationships.
The celebration of success began with a potluck full of families’ and friends’ favorite dishes.
Tomlinson, who is also the school’s social studies teacher and a counselor, opened the ceremony with a few jokes and words of wisdom. Superintendent Heidi Pace shared some inspirational stories and her high hopes for the graduates.
Next, each graduate was personally introduced by his or her counselor, one of the school’s four teachers, and given a rose.
The teachers remembered some of the students’ “baditudes,” described how they changed, referenced funny moments they shared, bragged about their accomplishments and praised their intelligence, wit, passion and creativity.
One student created his own glassblowing studio, another crafted a bench out of skis and still another plans to write a book.
Alanna Brock graduated a year early and plans to spend next year studying in Sweden.
Then each student had the opportunity to speak, recognizing teachers, family members and friends for their support and encouragement, singling out one person to receive a rose as a gesture of thanks.
Snowy Peaks students learn what it’s like to belong to a community, Tomlinson said. They became closer this year after the death of a classmate, who was remembered among the graduates with an empty seat, a graduation robe and a rose.
The class also united when student Jaime Leon Rivas was held in a detention center in Aurora for a month, facing deportation.
“I learned to appreciate just the fact that I’m free and I’m with my family,” he said. “That means a lot to me.”
He was able to catch up on his schoolwork after leaving detention, he said, though the end of the school year was stressful. He completed his personal project, a requirement for Snowy Peak graduates, on immigration.
Teacher Jennifer Wolinetz said the end was difficult for all the seniors because they just wanted it to be over.
But after so many people didn’t believe they could do it — including themselves — all 17 graduates turned their tassels and walked away with diplomas.