Aspen, Basalt valedictorians aim high | AspenTimes.com

Aspen, Basalt valedictorians aim high

Being the child of two teachers, Megan Hanson was used to attending graduation ceremonies at an early age.

"I told my mom in third grade I wanted to be the one to give the speech," Hanson said. Today, she gets her wish. She is the valedictorian for Aspen High School and will give a speech as part of the ceremony.

Hanson and the co-valedictorians at Basalt High School — Michelle Lehman and Neal "Garrett" Hiser — are the latest examples of the talented students emerging from area high schools.

Hanson will attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. She is the first Aspen graduate ever to be appointed to the academy. Her research indicates that she is the first appointed from the Colorado's Western Slope.

Hiser will attend Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Lehman will attend Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.

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Hiser and Lehman teamed up to write a speech that they will present at Basalt's ceremony. The theme, they said, is adventure.

Each of the three valedictorians sat down with The Aspen Times to briefly discuss their experiences and immediate plans.

Hanson said she always is asked if her parents' careers as teachers inspired her learning and quest for knowledge. Caroline Hanson heads the talented-and-gifted program at Aspen Middle School and is known for her work in robotics. Peter Hanson is a middle school science teacher.

Megan said her parents were great "in-house tutors" but didn't pressure her in academics.

"They always told me to relax and do one less thing," she said.

Hanson said she developed an interest for science courses during her school years and specifically enjoyed biology and physics. However, the teachers "across the board are outstanding" at Aspen High School, and she would be hard-pressed to pick a single favorite class, she said.

Hanson also immersed herself in athletics. She was on the cross-country, track and basketball teams. The basketball team "wasn't very good," Hanson acknowledged, but that made it all the more rewarding as the team had to work harder together to persevere. Hanson also quipped that she was on "about a million clubs" during her high school years. She was class president her freshman year and vice president her senior year.

The Naval Academy wasn't on her radar until the summer before her senior year, when her mom "forced (her)" to attend a summer seminar, she said. She got a taste of what it would take and be like to attend the academy.

"I ended up falling in love with it my week there," she said.

Nevertheless, as high school graduation neared and college acceptance deadlines loomed, she was divided between attending Princeton and the Naval Academy. She was so torn she thought it might come down to a coin flip, but ultimately, the academy seemed the right choice. She's excited about intermingling with the types of students attracted there and the bond classmates establish through the grueling education and training.

Hanson is interested in pursuing studies in political science and engineering. She wants to keep the door open in the area of diplomacy. She said some people laugh when she says it, but she is "interested in being a good person."

Hanson will be an officer when she graduates. She will owe the Navy five years of service after graduation.

Basalt's Hiser developed an interest in math and science during his early academic career, but he also is intrigued with social sciences. "When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist," he said.

He is specifically interested in materials science — the discovery and design of new materials and finding new applications for them.

He made an early commitment to Northwestern University for a number of reasons — including its proximity to Chicago. Hiser said he wanted to attend a school that provides a good education in engineering but also offers diversity in educational opportunity.

He said he feels lucky that he moved to the Roaring Fork Valley from Texas in eighth grade. His family had visited the area since he was a child. When it came time to decide whether to attend prep school in Texas or public high school in the Roaring Fork Valley, he made the decision with his mom, Kelly, to move to Basalt.

The biggest difference between Colorado and Texas is the people, he said. People are polite in Texas, but they are a different kind of nice in Colorado, he said. Hiser said he feels that he's truly made some close friends in Basalt.

He said his experiences at Basalt High School were "overwhelmingly positive," in large part because of the staff.

"It is what you make of it," he said. "You need to make your opportunities and take 'em."

His work with Basalt High School science teacher Mark Duff helped fuel his interest in materials science. Under Duff's tutelage, he entered the state science fair and earned third in his division.

Lehman has a passion for art that she plans to continue pursuing in college. Since she was a sophomore in high school, she said, she had an interest in striving for a degree in art and biology. Middlebury College encourages combinations of majors on the eclectic side.

Lehman, daughter of Michael and Maria Lehman, already is an accomplished artist who had a one-person show in the winter at the Wyly Community Arts Center in Basalt. She was intrigued after seeing a show on the Discovery Channel about animals that can produce light. She decided to explore how bioluminescence would manifest itself in humans.

"It's interesting to see what makes a person light up," she said.

Her oil paintings in a show called "Bioluminescence" portray "the way hope and desire can create a physical glow within and around us," according to her artist statement for the exhibit.

A trip to Middlebury earlier this year was something that made her light up. The people were friendly, she said, and the location allowed her to remain connected to the mountains despite leaving Colorado.

"The biology department is amazing," Lehman said.

Like Hiser, she was very complimentary of her education at Basalt High School. It's a small enough school that many of the students are close, she said, and the staff and administration provide opportunities that extend beyond the school's walls.

She intends to spend her last summer before college hiking and painting. She is taking a class on carving soft stone at Anderson Ranch and was offered another opportunity to display her art. She was invited by Vectra Bank to display her work later this summer in its Basalt branch. It's a fitting send-off from the Roaring Fork Valley as she starts a new life's journey.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Today’s Graduations

Both Aspen and Basalt high schools are holding their 2015 graduation ceremonies on Saturday, May 30.

Aspen will graduate 128 seniors. The ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. at the Benedict Music Tent at Third and Gillespie streets in Aspen. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will give the commencement address, and attendees will also hear from Salutatorian Caroline Godfrey and Valedictorian Megan Hanson.

Sixty-six seniors are expected to take the walk in Basalt. The commencement ceremony begins at 4 p.m. at Basalt High School at the tail end of Southside Drive. Co-Valedictorians Garrett Hiser and Michelle Lehman will speak to the attendees, along with Bret Pfost, a former Disney executive who recently became assistant general manager of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and nearby Iron Mountain Hot Springs, which is now under construction.

Congratulations and the very best of luck to the Class of 2015!

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