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Class of 2005 at their peak

Naomi Havlen
Aspen High School's Class of 2005. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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The members of Aspen High School’s class of 2005 are full of lofty dreams and expectations for the future – all mixed in with a hefty sense of humor.

“It’s rumored that we’re the best looking class,” senior Andrew Cote said on the day before graduation. Other students may beg to differ, but filing on to the Benedict Music Tent stage yesterday, the 92 graduates wore their gowns and mortarboards with the appropriate aplomb.And there were plenty of moments for laughter and appreciation of the talents of this particular graduating class: The ceremony was dotted with five musical performances by graduates, and valedictorian Naomi McDougall Jones swung a lightsaber and told her classmates (as the “Star Wars” theme song played in the background) to keep fighting and that the dark side “had better watch out.”

“Summits of Life: Peak of 2005” was the theme for graduation, complete with a commencement address by Aspen local and accomplished mountaineer Neal Beidleman. Students draped principal Kendall Evans in heavy climbing gear including boots, a helmet, ropes and caribiners as they accepted their diplomas. Evans is retiring after 10 years on the job and moving on with life – possibly to new peaks of his own.This graduating class hit a record by accepting 82 scholarships, around $200,000 in total. As Reese Henry, namesake of an accounting firm in the valley, told the graduates before giving out a scholarship, “This class was the biggest damn challenge – 50 percent of you are honor students. How do you expect us to pick just one?”

The students say they are one of the last small classes to pass through the district, many of them having grown up together from kindergarten on. The students are sad to say goodbye to one another, but many are also looking forward to peaks ahead.

“I’m definitely excited – I can’t wait to move on to college,” said Dane Butler, who will attend Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where he plans to study civil engineering. “I think our class is a good class – we’ll see a lot of people become CEOs and everything like that.”Tyler Baker, the school’s head boy (or co-student body president), is heading to Bali and Thailand to study art during an apprenticeship with another artist. He’ll then explore Southeast Asia, doing service projects like helping with tsunami relief and building schools, all the while earning college credit.

Head girl Madeleine D’Amato will attend the University of Denver, where she may focus on international studies. If so, she’s off to a good start, having visited five of seven continents during her school days.”In eighth grade we went to Japan, our freshman year we went to New Zealand, and this past summer Andrew [her friend] and I traveled through Argentina and spoke Spanish,” she said. “Our school creates so many opportunities that you leave high school with such a good head on your shoulders – such a good perspective and a good attitude towards life.”

Salutatorian Maggie Hoffman noted during her address that a “lack of slacking was not a problem for this class,” and they spent plenty of days enjoying fresh powder when they should have been in class. But she also asserted that her class was one of the hardest working classes in the school.

“We’re not afraid of work – some students want to be on Broadway … some are amazing athletes,” she said. “Everyone in this grade does everything, and does everything passionately.”For his part, 1977 Aspen High School graduate Neal Beidleman said that his own commencement speaker was none other than legendary folk musician John Denver. Although he admits he was baffled when he got the invitation to speak at this year’s ceremony, he offered advice on enjoying life as a journey, not a destination, and finding a balance between being tenacious and being humble. He encouraged graduates to “up the ante on your level of personal responsibility,” to “look into your heart to follow your passions,” and to continue pursue education throughout life.

It was a message Aspen High School’s graduating seniors seem to already embrace, but will soon take beyond Aspen.”I think our school pushes us to step out of the comfort of this small town into a large world,” D’Amato said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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