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Snowy Peaks school gets creative for in-person graduation ceremony

In drive-thru setting, tradition maintained of each grad giving a speech

Snowy Peaks High School counselor Jen Wolinetz speaks at the podium which graduate Madisyn Duffy looks on at Thursday's graduation ceremony at the school in Frisco.
Courtesy James Smith

FRISCO — Thanks in large part the school’s small graduating class of 10, Snowy Peaks in Frisco was able to have a drive-thru graduation ceremony on Thursday, May 21. Each student was able to take part in the school’s tradition of having every student give a graduation speech.

Snowy Peaks Principal James Smith and staff moved the picnic tables out of the way on the school’s front patio area that is adjacent to the school’s parking lot, where they set up a podium and flowers for the ceremony. From there, a couple of graduates at a time came for previously-scheduled graduation sessions. Each graduate was permitted up to two cars and 10 people in the party that pulled into the driveway to watch their graduation speech along with Snowy Peaks staff, and Summit School District Superintendent Kerry Buhler.

After each graduate gave a speech between two and five minutes long, families stepped out of their cars where a professional photographer and videographer was on hand capture the moment. Face mask and social distancing protocols were undertaken through the totality of the graduation ceremonies.

“And it was pretty intimate,” Smith said. “Usually in a graduation ceremony you hold it in a larger venue. In this case, they were just 20 feet away from their graduate as they were being recognized as they gave their speech.”

Smith said the Snowy Peaks tradition of having each student give a speech is related to the school’s purpose of providing more relationship-based education between students and teachers. The district describes the school as a “student-centered learning community” of 85 students.

Even with COVID-19 protocols each student was introduced by a staff member who spoke to their accomplishments, another school tradition. Further maintaining tradition, each 2020 graduate also awarded a rose to someone who they deemed significant in their educational journey.

“And we were really proud those traditions could be the same. It’s a bummer that usually it’s an emotional moment with high-fives and hugs, and we had constraints around that in place. But to still have a face-to-face opportunity and a beautiful day outside, it was great,” Smith said. “You know, our students choose our school for the relationship-based education and we build those on the front end. We really believe students don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. To be able to do it in person and celebrate them was appropriate for our school.”

2020 Snowy Peaks Graduates

Erica Cabral
Madisyn Duffy
Peter Griffith
Grant Kellerby
Ava Liebendorfer
Caleb Malcolm
Sarah McGuire
Cristal Ontiveros
Benjamin Weissman
Brian Wilson

During the ceremony, each student spoke of their own personal story of perseverance. For many of those students, that perseverance wasn’t just amid the struggles of their last few months the ongoing pandemic, but about how Snowy Peaks helped them to improve their educational experience. For one student that included accommodating their dyslexia.

One of the Snowy Peaks students who shared his story was Grant Kellerby, this year’s recipient of the school’s character award. Kellerby said he chose Snowy Peaks after his family encouraged him to apply. The idea of spending his first three years accomplishing the lion’s share of his high school work for graduation and having the fourth year reserved for college-level courses was right up his alley.

Kellerby’s math teacher, Joe Polise, was there with him for his personal diploma ceremony. At the end of the ceremony he gave his rose to his girlfriend Jenna Griffith, who graduated from Snowy Peaks in December.

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For Kellerby the graduation moment, which he was able to do with friends Peter Griffith and Brian Wilson, meant that much more after the past few months. During the shutdown he temporarily lost his job at an area restaurant so he began to work full time 40 hours a week, on top of his school work, at a grocery store in Summit County. A little over a month ago he began to feel cold-like symptoms, such as shortness of breath and weakness.

After a telehealth consultation with his doctor he was tested for COVID-19, which came back positive. He said he experienced the mild cold-like symptoms for a two-and-a-half weeks, mainly tiredness, before he began feeling back to normal with no symptoms three weeks ago. He went back to his grocery store job last week and is excited to resume his restaurant job on Sunday, May 24.

“I’m glad that time at home helped for me to finish up my schoolwork,” Kellerby said.

Snowy Peaks senior Benjamin Weissman gives his graduation speech on Thursday, May 21 in front of Snowy Peaks Junior and Senior High School in Frisco.
Courtesy James Smith

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