Graduation 2020: Aspen High students to talk challenges during commencement speeches
Kat Goralka’s co-salutatorian speech might take a somewhat serious approach Saturday during Aspen High School’s graduation ceremony at Buttermilk Ski Area. She’s using it as a way to reflect on the recent weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic and how the class of 2020 has had to adapt on the fly.
“Although the last few months of our high school experience were cut short, it definitely didn’t define my high school experience or define how I’ll look back on all of it years from now,” Goralka said. “I’m really grateful for the community putting it together and still finding a way to celebrate all of us.”
The AHS seniors always believed they would one day walk across the Benedict Music Tent stage to receive their diploma. Then came COVID-19, which closed down in-person learning earlier this spring and made putting together any sort of commencement ceremony a challenge.
The final result will be Saturday’s 10 a.m. drive-in graduation at Buttermilk. Held in the ski area’s parking lot and closed to the public, it’ll look much different than in past years but hopes to accomplish the same goal. That being to celebrate the nearly 140 seniors who will graduate as part of the class of 2020.
“A little nervous, but I’m prepared,” senior Quinn Ramberg said of having to give her graduation speech. “I hope to get across the message that it’s always important to persevere and keep trying when challenges arise.”
Ramberg is this year’s class valedictorian, while Goralka and Maxine Mellin are the co-salutatorians. Here’s a closer look at all three ahead of Saturday’s truly one-of-a-kind celebration:
IN OWEN’S FOOTSTEPS
Ramberg’s older brother, Owen Ramberg, was co-valedictorian for the AHS class of 2018, so she certainly had a lot to live up to. Not that this was a problem for the uber-talented Quinn, who is a scientist, artist, athlete and businesswoman all wrapped up into one.
“I definitely took the hardest classes I could,” Quinn Ramberg said, “but it was more about taking what I really enjoyed in school. And that just resulted in me becoming valedictorian.”
The younger Ramberg will next head to Stanford University, where she will study physics. Also a passionate artist — she oil paints, draws and creates ceramic sculptures — Ramberg hopes to find a minor or double major in the art world to combine with her physics degree.
“It’s almost like a puzzle. There are a bunch of unknowns and it’s trying to figure out what everything means and how our world works,” she said of a career as a physicist. “Just the culture of the school, everyone is super happy. And they also have a particle accelerator, which is a huge thing for physics. Which definitely drew me to the school.”
At AHS, Ramberg was a varsity member of the girls tennis team and even started her own company, Comfy Culture, which makes and sells sweatpants (yes, she can also sew).
Owen Ramberg currently is on a pre-med track at Bowdoin College after originally attending Penn.
INTO THE UNKNOWN
Goralka is super excited to attend the University of Michigan. She’s sure Ann Arbor will be a perfect fit for what she wants, although she’s had to use a little bit of blind faith in that regard.
“Michigan has everything I was looking for in a school. Going through the whole process, I definitely wanted a larger public school that has a bunch of resources,” Goralka said. “I actually haven’t visited campus, because I was supposed to go during spring break. So obviously that got canceled because of everything going on. But I’m super excited to be in Ann Arbor. It just seems like it has the perfect balance for me.”
Goralka is looking into biophysics at the moment, but was far from committal. She does, however, have a strong interest in the pre-med route, regardless of what her actual undergraduate study ends up being.
A standout athlete who played three years of basketball, four years of volleyball and would have played a fourth in lacrosse this spring, Goralka said she was somewhat surprised to have been given co-salutatorian honors.
“It’s really cool to be recognized in the class,” Goralka said. “I think it’s cool that Maxine and I tied and are able to have the title together. It wasn’t really something I went through high school thinking about. It wasn’t why I chose to take the classes and things I did. But I guess in the end it’s nice to be recognized a little bit for that.”
IT ALL ADDS UP
A math whiz, Mellin didn’t quite know what to do with her skills. Then she went to the New York Stock Exchange as part of a trip with local accounting firm Reese Henry and Co. and AHS and found her answer.
“I knew I wanted to do something with math, but I was torn between engineering and majoring strictly in mathematics — I didn’t know where I wanted to take that talent,” she said. “I applied randomly to this trip, and being able to go there and see this side of business and this aspect of math where I thought I could apply myself to really opened my eyes and it shifted the direction I wanted to take my studies.”
Mellin is headed to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania to study math and finance. She likes the “middle of nowhere” aspect of Bucknell, an experience she wanted, as her career path is likely to lead her to a large city.
Like Goralka, she was surprised by her co-salutatorian honor. Mellin’s speech will focus on her family, although she’s not quite sure how to handle the very unique audience she’ll face on Saturday.
“I was writing the speech originally and I was talking about, ‘As I look out on this crowd … wait, I cannot say that. I have to say how I look out onto all these cars.’ It’s a different experience for sure,” Mellin said. “I wasn’t pushing since freshman year to try and be salutatorian. It just happened naturally along with having fun throughout high school and having a good high school experience.”
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.