‘You’re all Superman!’ | AspenTimes.com

‘You’re all Superman!’

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Though it seemed that Aspen High co-salutatorian Jamie Gull was celebrating the most important day of his young life, he was a bit preoccupied during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

“For those of you who are interested, the Avs are up 1-0,” Gull reported before launching into his graduation speech.

Gull’s news was met with cheers from classmates and the attendees of Aspen High’s 111th commencement ceremony, which filled the Benedict Music Tent to near capacity. The ceremony was filled with cheers and tears as 93 seniors officially bid good-bye to their high school careers.

Stella Nordhagen, a National Merit Finalist who shared the salutatorian title with Gull, spoke of the many triumphs and tragedies her classmates had shared in their four years together.

The Class of 2002 were freshmen when the shootings at Columbine High School shocked the nation. Nordhagen’s class had been away on their annual Experiential Education trip on the day of the shootings, and the students had returned to school with a new outlook on life, she said.

“We did so with the knowledge that what we choose to do with our own lives can have enormous impact on others,” Nordhagen said.

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The seniors lost a friend and classmate in 1995, a boy the graduates remembered with a moment of silence during the commencement ceremonies. The student was just one of many who made up Aspen High’s “most identifiable class,” Gull said, a class of individuals that easily stood out in any crowd.

The grads’ individuality gave way to the commencement theme: “We don’t fit in, we stand out.” Gull called for his class to remain unique in the years to come.

“The biggest mistake you can make in life is being continually afraid of making one,” he said.

Class president and valedictorian Elizabeth Severy also asked her class to continue its tradition of “standing out” no matter what their futures hold.

“We will change the world with our unique words and actions,” she said. “We must step out of stride with the crowd to find distinction and fulfillment.”

A song tearfully presented by seniors Shannon Broughton and Leigh Ethridge gave way to the presentation of more than $200,000 in scholarship money to the college-bound class. Forty-nine students received 65 scholarships Saturday, which doesn’t include the national or university-provided awards the students picked up in the weeks leading up to graduation.

Saturday’s crowd was surprised to see an award of a different kind presented to Aspen School District Superintendent Tom Farrell. Farrell was met with two standing ovations Saturday, including one for earning the Distinguished Service Award for his 14 years in the district’s top job.

Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Mike Peters – also known for his “Mother Goose and Grimm” comic strip – left Aspen’s Class of 2002 with a bit of sound advice during his commencement speech. Though the grads will wrestle with career choices in the years to come, doing what makes them happy will eventually lead to wealth, he said.

“Do what you love,” he warned the grads. “I found if you do what you love, you do it well, and if you do it for long enough, people will start throwing money at you.”

Peters’ presentation proved a bit more exciting than the usual commencement speech. After sharing a story about his childhood obsession with Superman, Peters ripped open his button-down shirt and threw aside his tie to reveal the superhero costume beneath.

“You’re ALL Superman!” He shouted to the AHS grads, their last words of encouragement before receiving their diplomas.

In keeping with the class theme of “standing out,” Aspen High’s newest alumni abandoned “Pomp and Circumstance” and left the Benedict Music Tent Saturday afternoon accompanied by composer John Williams’ “Star Wars” theme.