Community the focus for Basalt High School’s class of 2023 at graduation ceremony

Class Valedictorian Connor Hoffman, left, greets commencement speaker Chris Lane on stage during Basalt High School's graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on the BHS field.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The students who make up Basalt High School’s class of 2023 didn’t even make it through their freshman year before a pandemic sent them home.

They learned how to battle through adversity from the start, and they discovered that the key to making it to the other side is by leaning on the community around you.

Through this, the classmates forged a deep bond.

“We are a class defined by love, support, and unity. As a class, we were immediately faced with incomprehensible challenges, challenges that forced us to understand early on that we cannot go far without the love and support of one another,” said Salutatorian Ella Lahey in her speech during Saturday’s graduation ceremony on the school’s athletic field. “This is why our class is so deeply connected and why we have developed a bond that has propelled us forward, enabling us to overcome any and every obstacle along the way.”

Nearly 100 Longhorn seniors took to the stage on Saturday to receive their diploma. Despite some gusty winds, the weather held up for the outdoor ceremony. Last year, a winter storm the night before forced the class of 2022 to hold its ceremony inside the gymnasium.

Principal Peter Mueller gave the first remarks, his focus also on the strong sense of community this year’s class molded over four years.

“The 98 graduating seniors sitting before us have accomplished a great deal. State running titles, acceptances to many colleges and universities, scholarships earned, but above all, friendships forged. This class lived through a pandemic, navigated the loss of family members and friends, and continued to reach out to others for support,” he said. “I would say this class is exceptional. They not only responded to our teachers’ pleas to stay connected and to keep (up with) their school work, but they also found the value in friendship and community. This class is bright, hardworking, and above all, compassionate.”

Basalt High School graduates toss their caps to conclude the class of 2023 graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The commencement address was delivered by Chris Lane, CEO of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. His daughter, Ava Lane, was among the new graduates Saturday.

He brought in a good bit of humor to his class address, beginning with a list of what he had no intention of talking about.

“When I was asked to do a commencement address, I did just what all of you would do. I drank two Red Bulls, I stayed up all night, and I crammed to the last minute. But I did my homework,” he jested. “I’m not going to cover what most speeches cover. Things like, ‘Follow your dreams, your passion.’ You should. You have the power to change the world. You do. I’m not going to tell you life is about the journey, not the destination. But it is. I’m not going to tell you to be bold, even though the world can be a scary place. I’m not going to tell you to remember to fail because success requires it.”

He ultimately focused on four key points: having a good handshake (First impressions help land you jobs in the real world), always telling the truth, knowing your credit score — “this speech is about to get exciting,” he said, prior to the credit talk — and finally about the importance of being in the right relationships to navigate life.

Some of this is apparently rubbing off on daughter Ava, as Mueller brought her up during his introduction speech.

“The most impressive memory for me was listening to you speak on behalf of a much younger student who had been teased by another,” Mueller told Ava early in the ceremony. “You stood up to this other student, looked them in the eye, and said, ‘You cannot treat my friend this way.’ There was no bite in her voice. Just a heartfelt expectation to treat your friends with care.”

This year’s valedictorian was Connor Hoffman, who spoke largely about legacy. This was on his mind as he is a seventh generation resident of the Roaring Fork Valley, with his family roots going back nearly 150 years in the area.

“I received an email from my grandma this week, alerting me that I am graduating high school exactly 70 years to the day after my grandma and grandpa graduated together. My grandma has left a long-lasting impact on my life, one of love and compassion,” the future Stanford student said. “Our legacy is not something that comes about at the end of our lives. It is not something that we can easily change. We carry it with us wherever we go, impacting whoever we meet and changing as we gain new life experiences.”

According to numbers provided by the school, 86% of this year’s class will attend either a four-year, two-year, or trade school after graduation. Also, half of the seniors received local scholarships totaling just over $350,000.

Lahey and Ben Limongelli were each added to the school’s Wall of Fame, which is awarded to two students each year based largely on a combination of values, spirit and legacy.

“The class of 2023, you made us proud,” Mueller said. “You made us smile, and you showed us how important community is to all of you.”

Aspen High School’s class of 2023 graduation ceremony is this coming Saturday, June 3, inside the Benedict Music Tent.


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