The air at the Frisco Community and Senior Center buzzed Thursday night with the conversation of friends, family and educators who gathered for the Snowy Peaks High School graduation ceremony.
Snowy Peaks is an alternative high school, offering a smaller setting for students who are struggling through the traditional school system. This year is its second year of operation.
Last year, 10 students graduated from the school. This year, 22 students dressed in caps and gowns and prepared to receive their diplomas.
“Did you bring tissues?” one audience member, who had attended the ceremony the previous year, asked another. With more than their fair share of obstacles and personal hardship, the students brought plenty of powerful emotion to a day spent celebrating a significant success.
“It’s very exciting,” Snowy Peaks principal Brett Tomlinson said of the graduation ceremony. “I’m so extremely proud of these guys. For some of them, at the beginning of the school year I really wondered if they were going to be able to overcome some of their psychological challenges. They put a lot of roadblocks in front of themselves. And they did (overcome). They persevered and they kicked those challenges down and here we are tonight, recognizing that.”
As dinner finished and friends and family members began to take their seats in front of the podium, the bustle in the hallway grew louder. The graduates were lining up — boys in long black robes and caps, girls in deep blue. They gathered together, jostling good-naturedly, sharing high fives and all of them grinning.
Eventually they settled down, as much as was possible, formed into two lines and walked into the big room. Cheers and whistles broke out immediately as the graduates came down the aisle and sat in chairs facing the crowd.
Tomlinson introduced the class of 2013, again emphasizing his pride at their success. He offered them some words of wisdom.
“Be visible. Be known,” he said. “Be connected to your community. Continue working in your community wherever that may be, and leave a profound and positive impact in improving your community so that not only your lives will be benefited and enriched but so will the lives of the others around you.”
Tomlinson then invited Summit School District superintendent Heidi Pace to say a few words as well. Pace offered the story of her grandfather, who, after surviving a gunshot wound to his brain, overcame considerable obstacles to live a long, full life. On his 100th birthday, he entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living person with a bullet in his brain. The Guinness people then presented him with a printed timeline of his life and accomplishments, which Pace held out to show the graduating class. It stretched over several feet long, covered in tiny print on both sides.
“Think about what you want your timeline to say after you’ve faced tough times,” she told them. “I wish each of you every possible success.”
Next, each of the graduates was personally introduced by his or her counselor. The counselors described the students whom they had gotten to know, whether over a year or for just a semester, emphasizing all their good qualities and the struggles they had overcome in school. Then the students had the opportunity to speak, thanking teachers, family and friends for support and encouragement, singling out one person each to receive a rose as a symbolic gesture of thanks.
It didn’t take long for most of the audience and nearly all of the participants to become teary-eyed. People wiped their eyes and smiled as students and teachers poured out their hearts into the microphone.
“I never thought I was going to graduate high school,” said Zuleyma Arias. She attributed her success to Snowy Peaks and support from family.
“My journey through school hasn’t been the traditional one,” Brooke Burns said. “This school has turned my life around.”
One by one, the graduates were introduced, said a few words and handed their rose to the significant people in their life. Finally, after the applause died away, Tomlinson took the stand once again to proclaim the students official high school graduates.
Tears disappeared and smiles grew stronger as the students moved their cap tassels from one side to the other, then stood to a final round of applause.
The graduates and the audience came together, mixing into hugs, handshakes and high fives.
One father took his son’s diploma carefully, considered it and turned to his son, summing up the evening by saying simply, “This means a lot.”