Aspen High School keeps the graduation spirit alive
Traditions old and new culminate unique school year
Aspen High School wasn’t about to let this year’s senior class go out without a bang.
“I think one of my biggest fears, aside from losing somebody in our community, was that these kids wouldn’t have any celebration befitting the end of their career,” Aspen High Principal Sarah Strassburger said in an interview. “I’m actually really excited that I think we’ve created new traditions.”
First, there was the senior bell-ringing ceremony in Gondola Plaza at the beginning of May; students sealed their plans for the future with a photo-op and a loud clang after deciding on colleges, gap years and post-grad work.
With the senior send-off floodgates opened, the honors and awards for the class of 2021 started to pour in: A reception for candidates in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and one for members of the National Honor Society, a senior awards night in which students racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and a sports banquet that bestowed honors on the senior athletes of the year.
And once the class of 2021 completed their last day of class Thursday and ticked off the requisite check-out to-dos a day later, it was pretty much all fun and games from there.
They donned caps and gowns for a March of the Graduates on Friday, dressed to the nines for a modified prom Saturday and slapped on sunscreen for a rafting trip with Glenwood Adventure on the Colorado River that departed Tuesday morning to kick off senior week.
Seniors will nosh on brunch on the turf field Friday after graduation rehearsal before the final farewells and toss of graduation caps Saturday at the same venue. No need for a drive-in graduation like the class of 2020 had last year, but the new tradition of a Buttermilk chairlift ride will continue with a ride up Tiehack after the 10 a.m. ceremony thanks to a partnership with Aspen Skiing Co.
A night of Project Grad programming will engage the graduates that evening after the ceremony.
“The things that were born out of a global pandemic I think are things that will be lasting. I think being able to ride the chairlift with your family and celebrate your 13 years of school is pretty incredible,” Strassburger said. “So for me, I’m filled with a huge sense of relief that they don’t have to lose anything with this celebration and just a lot of gratitude that everybody has been flexible and persevered.”
To be sure, there still were modifications this year. Seniors had to test negative for COVID-19 last week to participate in prom and the rafting trip. Prom was planned as more of a “prom reception,” Strassburger said, with red-carpet photo ops and yearbook distribution at the Benedict Music Tent and a senior slideshow at Harris Hall but a notable lack of close-contact dancing into the night.
But the Aspen High community felt it important to keep the spirit of graduation alive for the 128-member class of 2021, all of whom have spent the past 14 months of their high school career in and out of online learning and quarantines with modified sports schedules and masked-up, distanced events.
The rafting trip, meant to be a springtime proxy for the school-wide experiential education trips that typically happen in the fall, will cap off that career in outdoorsy Aspen High fashion.
“My hope is that this will be that culminating event before we get to graduation that really sums up their high school experience, right?” Strassburger said. “Great relationships with staff and great relationships with their peers and a real love and gratitude for our environment and being outside and just really realizing how lucky they are. And despite all the things that they have not been able to do this year, we’re going to end on a really positive note.”
Keeping old traditions going — and adding new ones to the books — makes for an optimistic outlook for the future in Strassburger’s view.
“I think as we’re coming out of a lot of loss, whether it’s tradition (or) my heart aches for people who did lose family members, I think it it’s just so hopeful,” Strassburger said. “And I think it really shows us that all of those cliches we know to be true (are true); you go through a dark time and here is that beautiful light at the end.”
The Aspen School District could collect an extra $1.2-1.5 million in tax dollars annually as a result of the district switching to local funding in fiscal year 2023-2024.