Basalt graduates persevere “through a challenging experience” capped off by Saturday’s ceremony |

Basalt graduates persevere “through a challenging experience” capped off by Saturday’s ceremony

Nearly 100 BHS students walked across the stage this year

Students hug in celebration following the Basalt High School graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 22, 2021, on the BHS football field. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

The final year and a half of the 2021 graduating class’s tenure at Basalt High School will likely be remembered for its turbulence. Between the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s civil unrest, it was a difficult time to be overly optimistic about the future.

But BHS Principal Peter Mueller decided to put the class up against these issues because of his belief in their ability to make the most, if not more, of the situation.

“Like you, our country was undergoing its own transformation,” Mueller said to the students during Saturday’s graduation ceremony on the BHS football field. “You endured a return to remote learning, clubs and sports seasons postponed, and your connections to your peers and your teachers severed. Our country was and still is working to understand and address the economic and racial divide that troubles us. But despite this challenge, this class, like our country, shows us that it will overcome these challenges.”

Mueller’s head count was 99 official graduates on Saturday, a group that has been accepted to more than 65 colleges and universities worldwide.

The scene itself was one of progress, with few masks and even less social distancing, a sign that the worst of the pandemic is hopefully in the past. It was as close to a normal setting as there has been in the area since March 2020 — when the pandemic first disrupted everyone’s lives — and made it easy to crack a few jokes and look to the future without any doubt.

“This grade is full of people who have grown up together since elementary school, really, even as far back as preschool,” head student and graduating senior Noah Allen said during the ceremony. “And starting today, we never have to see them again. Oh, yeah, sorry, we still have to get through the night.”

Saturday’s post-graduation festivities included both prom and Project Graduation, events that seemed more like far-fetched dreams only a few months ago due to stricter pandemic-related rules. But with those restrictions being aggressively dialed back in recent weeks, Basalt’s 2021 senior class was able to go out on a relatively high note.

Students toss their caps into the air to conclude the Basalt High School graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 22, 2021, on the BHS football field. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

“They’ve been really patient and at the same time have persevered through a challenging experience,” Mueller said of the 2021 graduates. “They’ve done a great job of taking care of each other and they’ve done a great job of staying in touch with their teachers, their responsibilities, the clubs, the play that we put on … and lastly, just athletically, they showed up and were really fun to watch and see how they came together as a group.”

Salutatorians Gabby Narby and Samantha Johnston gave speeches during Saturday’s ceremony, as did valedictorian Mari Elliott. The commencement address was given by BHS teachers Michelle Collins and Rebekah Nesbitt, while outgoing Assistant Principal Megan Baiardo read the graduate’s names as they crossed the stage to get their diplomas. Baiardo was recently named the new principal for Roaring Fork High School.

Elliott, who will attend Yale University, was among the easiest to spot with the bulldog bobblehead seen dancing on her cap throughout the ceremony. Yale’s mascot is the Bulldog and she wanted to represent her new school, a place where she plans to study both English and biochemistry.

Considering the whirlwind that was Saturday — and this doesn’t include the gusty winds that tore across the field during the ceremony — Elliott might need a few days to take it all in.

“It’s a relief. It’s a little surreal still, but it’s pretty great,” Elliott said about finishing her speech and graduating. “I was very nervous. I haven’t really eaten anything today. I thought it went well. In the end, I was happy with how it went. I didn’t fall, so that was really good.”

Elliott also was one of two named to the BHS Wall of Fame, an annual tradition and honor bestowed upon noteworthy graduates. The other inductee was the late Patrick Palardy, who died in 2017 and would have been a member of this year’s graduating class. Elliott said Palardy likely would have been given the honor had he still been here today, as well liked as he was.

“It’s super heart-warming to see them overcome so many different challenges and find purpose in what they want to do,” Mueller said. “Not just now, but in the future. It’s just a great group of students and we are going to miss them dearly.”

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