by Marissa Lorenz
Graduations are the rites of passage in the culture of the United States. They are a symbol of achievement, whether that be learning all one’s letters and numbers in kindergarten or earning a doctoral degree. But none is perhaps more consequential than that of high school graduation, marking the moment when an American youth passes from childhood to adulthood, from dependency to autonomy, from the known path into the unknown beyond.
High school graduation often marks a new kind of liberty, a liberation in both fact and fantasy. But after a year of literal confinement–in mandated quarantines, behind masks, and in 6-foot bubbles–the West Grand High School Class of 2021 celebrated more than one kind of freedom this past weekend as they accepted diplomas without masks and with all of the affection that could be hoped for just days after the County rescinded all local COVID-19-related health orders.
Family, friends, and community members gathered at the West Grand High School on Saturday morning where immediate family were first invited into the school gymnasium to watch the senior video. Other attendees watched outside on two large screens set up in front of the football field bleachers.
Everyone then collected on the field and in the bleachers and were welcomed by Graduate Iliana Castillo, who reminded all present of the wise words of Winnie the Pooh when he said, “How lucky [we are] to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Class Salutatorian Jesus Dominguez spoke, acknowledging both the tragedy of the pandemic and the good fortune of the local community. “While millions–millions–of Americans fought for their lives in whatever form that may be, lots of us were fortunate enough to be in beautiful Kremmling, Colorado, where we could take a 10-minute drive or a 20-minute hike and end up beholding the most pleasing sites that any small town has ever seen.”
He expressed his “love for every single one of [his] classmates,” and encouraged them to remember two things: “We can do better, and we cannot forget that in order to be great, we have to first be grateful.”
Valedictorian Charlie Multerer recounted highlights of the 1,978,560 minutes on the “timer” that represented the time he and his classmates had spent in West Grand High School since the first day of their freshman year. He told of firsts and lasts, and noted that, if they had known how the pandemic would make the timer tick faster, “maybe we would have done some things differently. Maybe we would have kept a better eye on our timers.”
But the outcome, Multerer said, was that “We are diligent, strong, and–most importantly–capable.”
Faculty Speaker Ryan Tripicchio took one last opportunity to teach some life lessons. He lauded the fact that each one of the students had a purpose but cautioned that “people change, which means purposes change. And they should, and they must.”
He emphasized the importance of balance and taking care of oneself, offering a “simple formula: stress plus rest equals growth. If you don’t push yourself, you won’t grow. And you won’t grow if you don’t let yourself rest.”
Finally, High School Principal Liz Bauer offered a quote that reminded the just former students that graduation is not merely an ending but a beginning and that that beginning should be celebrated.
“The fireworks begin today,” Bauer closed with a quote from American politician Ed Koch. “Each diploma is a lighted match, and each one of you is a fuse. Go make the fireworks happen.”
West Grand Board of Education members presented diplomas to each of the graduates, and the community continued the celebration with a parade to honor those who, as 2021 graduates, have successfully passed not just over the threshold of commencement but achieved the passage through a turbulent year of COVID-19.