Aspen High seniors ready to ‘shoot for the moon’ following graduation |

Aspen High seniors ready to ‘shoot for the moon’ following graduation

The Aspen High School 2017 graduates toss their hats in the air at the Benedict Music Tent on Saturday.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

To infinity and beyond.

This catchphrase — made popular by Buzz Lightyear from Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story” — was the 2017 Aspen High School graduating class’s theme. The idea was to inspire those heading into the unknown world of adulthood while maintaining the fun ignorance of youth.

“We’re still kids at heart. We’re still learning, but ready to go to the next level,” an unnamed student told Jill Sheeley about why they chose the phrase. “Buzz Lightyear does everything with a kind spirit, and our class is always shooting for the moon.”

Sheeley, a noted children’s author who has lived in Aspen for 47 years, was the commencement speaker Saturday when 134 Aspen High seniors received their diplomas inside the Benedict Music Tent. It was the 128th graduating class in the school’s history.

“Today is a moment of great significance,” Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy told the crowd Saturday. “This ceremony represents a 13-year investment of knowledge and preparation and dedication.”

Following musical performances from seniors Liam Locke and Liza Vechiarello, as well as introductions from Maloy and AHS Principal Tharyn Mulberry, 2017 class President Ethan “E.O.” Rafelson introduced Sheeley. She has long been a mentor to AHS students, including helping create the Health Career Club, which sends students to volunteer at Aspen Valley Hospital.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion and humbly honored. I was also mildly terrified,” Sheeley said of being asked to be the commencement speaker. “The class of 2017 has made a difference: 10,000 hours of service just this year. You are amazing, and I commend you.”

Part of Mulberry’s introduction was handing out the “Principal’s Award,” which he presented to senior Hannah George, who will attend Rice University in Texas.

Between more musical performances — these from Lauren Anuszewski, Katarina Kowar and Jaclyn Harris — and the presentation of diplomas, Locke, the class salutatorian, and valedictorian Keegan Mehall spoke to the 2017 class one final time.

“In the next few months, the class of 2017 will scatter around the country and around the world,” Mehall said. “But the memories we have made, the friendships we have formed, the lessons we have learned, will endure.”

Of the 2017 graduates, 93 percent are set to continue their education, most at four-year schools. To date, 71 individual colleges or universities are represented. The class received 139 scholarships awarded to 85 individuals, totaling $385,150 from community organizations and individual donors.

“Your journey matters to all of us,” Sheeley told the students. “I can tell this class of 2017 is ready to go to infinity and beyond. Just like the toys all stuck together, you do, too. You will go that extra mile and succeed.”

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