Ringing in the future with the Aspen High School class of 2021
Seniors celebrate the journey and the destination as school year wraps up
A bit of rain didn’t put a damper on Sunday’s festivities at Gondola Plaza, when four waves of seniors from the Aspen High School class of 2021 rang a gold bell to celebrate their post-graduation decisions. It was an especially momentous occasion after a school year that students at the event described as “strange,” “hectic,” “interesting,” “a whirlwind.”
“Karen (Hawkes), Susanne (Morrison) and I couldn’t be more proud of them and how resilient they are,” said Charlie Laube, a post-secondary counselor at Aspen High School. As members of the post-secondary counseling team, Hawkes, Morrison and Laube focus on helping students find a place “where they’re going to thrive” after graduation, he said.
This year’s event looked a bit different than it has in the past. For years, students rang the bell at school when they submitted their first college applications, not downtown when they decided where they would go next year. Pandemic necessity being as it is the mother of invention, the school opted for a springtime outdoor program with logistics support from Aspen Skiing Co.
“We felt that having a more community feel outdoors was more in line with the Skier culture,” Laube said.
The bell-ringing followed National College Decision Day on May 1, the date students have to submit deposits and confirm their enrollment for most colleges and universities. Hosting it at the end of the school year rather than during the fall application season also meant every senior could participate in the ceremony regardless of whether they’re choosing college, trade school, a gap year, work or travel after graduation.
“We’re celebrating the decision, not what that decision is,” Laube said.
“We’re just excited that our kids are being thoughtful about where they’re going — but more importantly, why they’re going,” he said.
For Stef Wojcik, who’s heading to Davidson College after a gap year, that “why” had a bit to do with a gut feeling. She was undecided down to the wire, but ultimately opted for the North Carolina school because “it felt like home.”
“You know the answer. You know where you want to go,” Wojcik said. The panic of decision-making crunch time has been replaced by relief, she said.
All told, the 128-student class of 2021 will represent more than 60 different colleges when they branch out in the fall. Of those students, 124 applied to colleges, submitting nearly 880 applications and racking up almost 550 acceptances, according to a May 7 email from post-secondary counselor Karen Hawkes.
Their final destinations are in some cases close to home, like Colorado College and the University of Colorado, Boulder; others are heading around the world for schooling in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews and the University of Stirling. Those who didn’t apply to colleges are bound for the workforce or gap year programs.
Some, like Evelyn Leibinger, are planning on a year of exploration before working toward their degrees. Leibinger will spend the next year in an EF Tours program before heading to Montana State in the fall of 2022; she’s known since the seventh grade that she wanted to do a gap year program.
On her itinerary: two weeks traveling Europe; a six-week homestay in Barcelona, Spain; a six-week service program in Tanzania; a month in Chamonix, France, to work and ski; three weeks of travel in Australia and New Zealand; a six-week internship in Sydney.
“I am just so happy, so excited,” she said.
Aspen High School’s head boy Jeremy Martin, who serves as a representative and school president of sorts at Aspen High, is likewise “very, very excited” for the future and what promises to be a busy month ahead.
He’ll be heading to Pomona College in Claremont, California, this fall. His twin brother, Alex, will be a stone’s throw away at Harvey Mudd College; both schools are part of the Claremont Colleges. The brothers rang the bell together last Sunday; their parents joined in for a photo-op, too.
“I love this tradition,” Martin said. And because this year his family can participate in the celebration, “I think this is even more special than it would normally be,” he said.
Being able to honor traditions like the bell ringing feels “fantastic,” said Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh. Especially so after COVID-19 put a pin in most typical celebrations and hallmarks of senior year while students attended online classes and went in and out of hybrid learning.
“It feels like we’re coming to the end of a long hard year with a very positive outcome. … “It’s nice to be moving in the right direction,” Baugh said.
Ohio University-bound Ellie Martin said she’s grateful, too.
“I’m happy that they’re still doing the best they can to make us feel celebrated,” Martin said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the total number of college acceptances and applications for the Aspen High School class of 2022 and to note that Stef Wojcik plans on a gap year before heading to Davidson College.
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In her 22 years at Aspen School District, Julie Markalunas Hall said the district and the community have “always put in the passion and the effort. … They both have to do it together to provide the resources that kids need.”