Aspen grads turn hopeful eyes on the future |

Aspen grads turn hopeful eyes on the future

Tess Stevens
Aspen High School valedictorian
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Daniele Mottier/Special to the Aspen Times Many graduating students lined up in the dark with glow sticks on the night of their senior river trip in Utah.

Good afternoon, fellow graduates, family, friends, and faculty. It is an honor to be able to speak to you today on behalf of the class of 2011.

A few nights ago, a desolate expanse of Utah desert was brightly illuminated by a small army of viciously fighting fireflies. Or that’s what it would have looked like if I’d been able to observe our campsite from the vantage point of the towering rock walls. In reality the fighting fireflies were the Aspen High School class of 2011, each person holding a glow stick and playing an intense round of glow stick tag, which mostly included crashing into each other, screaming, and tripping over rocks. Suddenly the shifting mass of lights converged on one area, and within minutes the would-be graduates had formed their lights into a glittering image that spelled: Seniors 2011. A camera clicked, a triumphant shout went up, and the lights dispersed, each moving off on a path of its own.

Later in the evening, as I was climbing into my sleeping bag after a night of s’mores, songs and celebrating, the image of the glittering letters seemed imprinted in my mind. I pulled out a scrap of paper to write down some thoughts for this speech. Being the responsible student that I am, I had haphazardly tore some pages out of a notebook in the lost and found and borrowed a pen from John Fisher as I was running to catch the bus for our senior rafting trip. Memories of our class started flooding my brain … the friendships, Friday night football games, Spirit Week, the two best dodge ball commentators, Forrest and Nathan’s neon suits at Homecoming, stylish onesies on ski day, Amy’s beautiful solo, Daniel’s rendition of “Hotel California,” … the day in Biology class when we dissected a cat. In the somewhat brutal quest to view the brain, we cracked the skull and a large, pink and mushy fragment flew out of the melee and landed squarely on Shannon’s lip. Everyone froze, Shannon cried out for help, and after a lengthy pause Laura, the aspiring doctor, had the presence of mind to remove the offending matter.

Then there was the late night study session when Mike and Nicky and I, fancying ourselves accomplished Hamlet scholars like Mr. P, decided that we had discovered a new character in Shakespeare’s famous play. His name was Pat, and he was Hamlet’s best friend. Some of you may remember the scene when Hamlet is considering killing his evil uncle, Claudius. He says, (quote) “Now might I do it pat” (end quote) (III iii 77). We decided Pat must have replied, ‘No Hamlet, don’t do it!” … Don’t worry, Mr. P, that quote is parenthetically referenced.

That night in the desert I was overcome by a nostalgia that only takes full effect when an era is coming to an end. There is so much truth in the words of Joni Mitchell, “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got / ‘Til it’s gone.”

What we’ve got here at Aspen High School is something extraordinary. Our teachers are top notch, and never fail to be inspiring. We have been entertained by Matt Wells’ cat lady story, Kirk Gregory’s pimp story, and Stephanie Nixon’s tales from Wales. Our math class has been continually impressed with Jamie Hozack’s mad smart board skills. Thank you, Karen Green, for the extra study sessions and the organic brain food. Barbara Connell, playing “Donde esta el clip?” never failed to bring smiles to our entire Spanish class. Sarah Benson, you know everything about all our social lives, not to mention all the systems of the body. Mr. P, our class has a new appreciation for the uses of the word “heinous.” Thank you for expanding our vocabulary.

I think I speak for our whole class when I say that it has been a pleasure getting to know all the teachers at Aspen High School, and that we are graduating full of knowledge about our world and ourselves. Thank you – you’ve prepared us well.

Of course not all learning takes place in the classroom. As Mark Twain once said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” Experiential learning is truly one of the things that Aspen High does best. We can cook freeze-dried dinners, surf, sail and scuba dive; make our own skis; and relax our minds during solo time.

Our Ex Ed program is amazing. I have shivered through a nighttime blizzard atop a peak in the Tetons, chatted with an authentic hippie from San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, twirled the Bhangra, an Indian folk dance, at the Crestone Healing Arts Center, and Tyrolean traversed across a pond in the glimmin canyons of Utah. Who could ask for a more diverse range of experiences … and I am only one example. Unexpected friends always materialize from these adventures, another of the joys of the Ex Ed program. Thank you again to our incredible teachers, administration and parents for making sure that these opportunities are available for Aspen High School students.

Fellow 2011 graduates, we’ve all been transformed by our time at Aspen High School. Would you even recognize yourself four years ago? I’ve gone from the shy little freshman, who couldn’t think of a word in my own defense when an upperclassman informed me that actually I was not allowed to sit on the boat, to a senior, confident enough to ask Mr. P if I could please miss fifth period and sleep in after seeing the Harry Potter midnight premiere with my friends. (If you’re wondering, the answer was a resounding yes.)

Class of 2011, what an elevengendary group we are! With the help of Kathy and Susan, the dynamic duo, we have been accepted into a plethora of diverse schools, from Liverpool to Los Angeles, Boulder to Boston, with interests in everything from engineering to English, archaeology to art, business to biology. I fully anticipate watching many of my classmates win Oscars, Grammies, and Top Chef, climb cloud-covered peaks, discover cures, build schools, and, of course, convene in Aspen for reunions. Who knows where we will all be in ten years, although I do know that I’ll be in Russia in 2014 to watch Katie Ryan in the Olympics!

Fellow graduates, whether we like it or not, the future we are heading into will bring many things, and most especially change. Some of us have been awaiting this day for years, carefully moving the marker in our time trackers forward each week, while others of us have been taken by surprise by the speed with which high school has flown past. For many it is a combination of both.

Today let’s celebrate our accomplishments, cherish our friendships, and be grateful for our families and community. The glow sticks that came together for a brief moment in the desert to memorialize our class are about to be carried forth by each triumphant graduate on their own path through the world. Though our lights may be far apart, we are bound together by our connection to this school, this place, and each other.

Congratulations fellow graduates, the adventure is about to start!

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