Despite pandemic, Summit High School seniors get to walk across the graduation stage

Graduate Josselin Leiba holds wears a cap that reads "Always stay humble and kind" during the Summit High School graduation ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 1.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

BRECKENRIDGE — Summit High School’s class of 2020 is far from ordinary. 

On the brink of their entrance into the adult world, the group of graduates have had to navigate an unprecedented time. As schools across the state shut down to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, the group of students accepted the reality that they may never get to walk across the graduation stage. 

On Saturday, Aug. 1, that reality changed, when the high school hosted three socially distant graduation ceremonies. Of the around 200 graduating seniors, 75 were able to attend the ceremonies, which were split into groups of around 25 graduates. 

The ceremonies were the culmination of a series of graduate activities throughout the summer. In May, the graduates had their own parade, in which they filled Breckenridge Main Street to celebrate their accomplishments. 

Summit High School graduates move their tassles to the left to mark the end of the graduation ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 1.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

“In these past few months, I’ve realized what I’ve taken for granted in these last four years of high school,” graduate Ethan Long said in his speech at each ceremony. “The privilege to walk past every one of my peers and friends to see their face in the hallway, to collaborate with them and be continuously awed by their unique nature and to take a moment to realize how blessed I am to be learning with some of the most exquisite minds I’ve ever gotten to know.”

In an interview after the ceremony, Long said he didn’t expect to have the opportunity to give his speech when the pandemic first began. 

“It was nice to know that the school district cares enough to let us do something more traditional,” said Long, who plans to study creative writing at Colorado State University. “It just means more because of the effort that was put into it and the amount of people that collaborated to make it work.”

Graduate Ethan Long instructs his classmates to move their tassles to mark the end of the graduation ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 1.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

Summit High School Principal Tim Ridder said the ceremonies came together last minute after receiving feedback from families that the seniors would enjoy the opportunity to walk across the stage. 

“I wanted to make it a student-focused graduation, with one of our graduating students giving a speech,” he said. “It was all about them and that is the best thing you can do in a graduation.”

The school was strict on virus prevention protocols during the ceremonies. Every student and spectator was screened for symptoms at the entrance and had information taken for contact tracing purposes. The graduates and their families wore face coverings or masks for the entire ceremony and every student carried their diploma with them on stage to prevent unnecessary contact. 

Even with all of the precautions, the ceremonies will be remembered by the students for years to come. 

Graduate McKenna Simson gives a thumbs up as she walks across the stage at the Summit High School graduation ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 1.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

“At first I though it wouldn’t matter, but I’m really glad that I came because it just feels good to see everybody,” said graduate Logan Simson, who plans to either take a gap year or attend the University of Denver in the fall. “It just feels good to have closure. Walking across that stage, it just felt super official.”

Even before the class of 2020 experienced life in a pandemic, Ridder said they were committed to making the world a better place. The graduates worked to fight social injustices, combatted nicotine addiction and found ways to be active in their community despite the virus. 

“This is a special group of kiddos,” he said. “They’re going to pull two things forward with them. One is the fact that they can adapt to any situation. The second is they can impact their environment. … They had a successful high school experience. It wasn’t the one they wanted, but it was a success.”

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