Basalt graduates talk about family, friendship at Saturday ceremony after tragic year

Basalt High School’s 2019 graduating class was united in the most difficult of ways. From the Lake Christine Fire that burned more than 12,500 acres last summer to the losses of fellow classmates, it was a group that was forced to come together through tragedy.

From this a kinship was developed, something Tai Kim hopes they carry with them into the future.

“Our school has faced great losses this year. Anna Cunningham and Tyler Ribich’s deaths hit our school like a tidal wave,” Kim said. “Both students represented the best qualities of Basalt High School: a relentless optimism and unequaled warmth and humor. But with death comes love. I felt this love from this school, from our students and from the community. Our reaction to these losses has taught me a lot.”

The idea of friends and family was a common theme during Basalt’s 2019 graduation ceremony Saturday on the BHS football field, which is prime viewing of the scars left behind by the Lake Christine Fire. With 89 official graduates this year, the school said it was the largest graduating class in BHS history.

As head students this year, America Ceja and Kim gave a joint speech Saturday in front of a packed grandstand. Ceja is headed to Colorado Mesa University while Kim will attend the Air Force Academy.

“Being able to support each other and be there for one another during the losses of two dear fellow classmates demonstrated the strong community we are and the love we have for one another,” Ceja said.

BHS teachers Erin Niebla, who has taken a new job outside of the valley, and Eric Vozick gave the class address, with principal Peter Mueller giving the opening remarks. He spent a portion of that thanking the teachers, staff and parents for all they’ve done for the students.

“I know the parental journey has been filled with lots of challenge, lots of surprises, and most of all, lots of joy,” Mueller said. “Basalt High School teachers pride themselves in developing close relationships with our students. And from these relationships spring forth a willingness to take on challenge and grow.”

Megan Maley and Steven Garcia-Machuca were co-valedictorians, and both talked about being inspired by their actual blood family. Garcia-Machuca, who will attend Harvard on full scholarship, spoke of his mother, a refugee from El Salvador who fled poverty and war to create a new life in the United States for her children.

“She endured the struggles of supporting a family as a single mother while adapting to a new culture and new language,” Garcia-Machuca said. “I am her definition of the American dream and a testament that one’s background does not determine what you are capable of, that hard work pays off and that you can make it in a system not created for you.”

Maley, who will attend Scripps College in California, spoke of the “crazy adventures” she embarked on repeatedly with her family. These adventures, which include anything from snowshoeing to bushwhacking, taught her about the power that comes by making your own path.

She believes this same approach can be taken in life and bid her fellow graduates to find their own way forward.

“Our generation will face issues that will require nothing less than a radical deviation from the standard trail,” Maley said. “Our future relies on discovering ways not yet traveled. I’m confident the class of 2019 is full of courageous pioneers, innovative pathfinders and crazy adventurers.”