The Peak School hosts chairlift graduation ceremony at Copper Mountain Resort
Teachers called it 'the best grad ceremony in America'
COPPER MOUNTAIN — An old SL Dynastar racing ski long relegated to a backyard fence was the secret ingredient to giving The Peak School graduates what some said was the best graduation in America.
“How skinny the ski is gives you an idea how old it is,” The Peak School Head of School Travis Aldrich said.
A couple of weeks ago, Aldrich reached out to the Summit County Public Health Department and Copper Mountain Resort General Manager Dustin Lyman with an idea for a chairlift graduation ceremony for his students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’d take that old Dynastar ski and adhere a woven picnic basket to the end of it. In the basket, he’d place each of the 14 Peak School graduates’ diplomas. From there, the students, riding on chairs along with members of their households, would grab their diplomas as their chairs crested the top terminal of Copper Mountain Resort’s Super Bee lift.
Lyman loved the idea, especially on the Super Bee. Super Bee’s base area behind Copper Station in the resort’s East Village would be spacious enough to space out the 80 people — students, families, relatives and teachers — who came out Friday morning. And the top of the Super Bee, at tree line on Copper’s eastern-most terrain, would be a glorious view for graduates and those there supporting them with the iconic Tenmile Range in the background.
“Whether or not we could pull it off was a whole ‘nother question,” Lyman said. “So we worked with Summit County Public Health to establish the protocols for the ceremony with loading and unloading. Our operations team did a great job of just figuring out the logistics, and we got lucky with the weather (Friday), and it was great for the community.”
As the 14 graduates and their family photo-takers dispersed from a final round of pictures on a patch of Copper Creek Golf Course grass after the ceremony, smiling Peak School teachers belted out how this was “the best grad ceremony in America” and how they’d “like to do this every year.”
Whether the tradition sticks, Aldrich said it was the small student body, along with creative thinking, that facilitated Friday’s festivities.
After the directive from health officials that household groups must stay 6 feet apart from one another, organizers planned to give masked students, sitting beside parents and siblings, the chance to have their pictures taken while grabbing their diplomas from the basket as the chairlift stopped one by one at the top before turning around for the ride downhill.
Smiling from ear to ear beneath their special Peak School face masks — which were sewn by 2020 graduate Cameron Bryant’s grandmother — the grads slowly descended 2,293 vertical feet, staring out at one of the most breathtaking views of Summit County. One grad even had the fickle Tenmile Canyon wind steal his cap on the ride down.
For Bryant and his mother, Marilyn, the effort and creativity on the part of the resort and school administration meant the world and crystallized for them why they moved from Leadville to Silverthorne for Cameron to go to The Peak School. Along with his grandmother and mother, Cameron had a tribe of family members with him Friday riding the lift in separate groups. They held up homemade signs of Cameron holding beakers and dressed in a chemistry gown to celebrate his next step: studying pharmaceutical engineering at Regis University in the fall.
It meant that much more to the Bryants that their grandparents could be there. Until this week, they hadn’t seen them for almost three months through the pandemic.
For another graduate, Summit Tigers football star Al Espinosa, Friday was the exclamation point on the reason why he chose The Peak School two years ago as an international student from Mexico City. When he looked into living with his uncle Luis in Breckenridge, The Peak School rose to the top of the list because it was one of the few schools that sponsored student visas. Ever since, The Peak School has provided him with a community, he said.
“It’s family,” Espinosa said, “just a family.”
As for what’s next for that community, Aldrich is hopeful The Peak School will be able to resume classes at its Frisco campus this fall. That’s thanks to the numbers game: The Peak School already has a 1-6 student-teacher ratio.
Time will tell if, even in a post-COVID-19 world, this Peak School tradition sticks. For now, Aldrich and the school community are just grateful — thanks to that old, skinny racing ski — they threw a creative graduation party at Copper.
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As the Summit School District prepares for all online instruction, adults are focusing their attention on the health and well-being of the students.