As restrictions ease, Summit high schools plan for return to in-person graduation ceremonies |

As restrictions ease, Summit high schools plan for return to in-person graduation ceremonies

The Peak School’s commencement ceremony is held on the Super Bee chairlift at Copper Mountain Resort on May 29. The school plans to return to Copper for its graduation ceremony this year.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the time of graduation and the number of years Jim Smith has been principal at Snowy Peaks.

Last year, The Peak School defied typical graduation standards to provide its students with a mountaintop graduation ceremony.

The experience was so invaluable to its seniors that the school decided to do it again.

The Peak School’s 11 seniors will gather with their families May 27 at the base of Copper Mountain Resort for a brief ceremony, according to Head of School Travis Aldrich.

In pre-pandemic times, The Peak School would use the Colorado Mountain College auditorium for its graduation. But Aldrich said families appreciated the ceremony at Copper last year, as it was one of few schools in the country to hold a ceremony of that kind.

“Our families, they actually really enjoyed the uniqueness of the Copper chairlift graduation (so) we decided to incorporate it into our plans this year because Copper has been so welcoming,” Aldrich said. “We’re a small enough group where this works for us, and, again, we’re very appreciative to Copper for helping to make it happen.”

Aldrich will give opening remarks before keynote speaker Caroline Santinelli, a former English teacher who seniors voted to bring back for the ceremony, takes the stage. Then, each senior selected a person who played an important role in their lives to speak on their behalf.

After the speeches, each senior will ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain where they will receive their diplomas — the same ceremony The Peak School did for last year’s graduates.

All other Summit County schools will have some form of in-person graduation ceremony with health and safety protocols in place.

Snowy Peaks will hold an in-person ceremony for its 13 graduates at noon May 26.

Principal Jim Smith said the plan is to hold the ceremony outdoors at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center. It would move inside to the Silverthorne Pavilion in inclement weather.

Since he became principal of the school in 2014, Smith said every ceremony has seen rain or snow — except for last year, when the school had a drive-in ceremony.

Smith added that he is happy graduates will get to experience the school’s graduation traditions.

The school doesn’t usually have a keynote speaker at its graduation. Instead, each student gets to talk about what their diploma means to them. After every student speaks, they then get to “award a rose to a person who has had the biggest influence or impact on their journey of education,” Smith said.

Last year, students were able to uphold these same traditions, just in smaller groups of three families at a time at a drive-in ceremony.

“It’s really powerful because we, oftentimes, serve students who need a different approach to education, they need a nontraditional environment,” Smith said.

Now that Summit County will move to level green on the local dial, Smith said he is unsure how capacity and ticketing will work for the event this year.

“The COVID numbers are moving in the right direction, and we look forward to providing the absolute best and most personal experience and graduation that our scholars deserve,” he said.

Summit High School will host an outdoor ceremony for its graduates at 9 a.m. outside the high school field house May 29. It will be a ticketed event for families, and the school hired a professional photographer to take photos of graduates with their diplomas, according to a schedule of events from the district.

The high school will also hold a senior picnic and a virtual commemoration May 28.

Last year, graduating seniors held a drive-thru parade on Main Street in Breckenridge in May as well as a drive-in virtual ceremony. Other celebrations were held throughout the summer, and in August, 75 of the 200 graduating seniors were able to attend an in-person, physically distanced ceremony.

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