Olympic medalist Alex Ferreira highlights Aspen High School’s senior graduation
Aspen High School almost didn’t have a commencement speaker for Saturday’s senior graduation inside the Benedict Music Tent.
Fresh off a trip to Singapore, professional halfpipe skier Alex Ferreira had his morning flight from Dallas to Aspen postponed until later that evening, after the ceremony, and it took a lot of good fortune for him to make it home in time.
Thanks to his travel agent — aka mom — a calming girlfriend for his panic attack and a private, unplanned air taxi from Montrose, the Olympic silver medalist was able to address the Class of 2018, mostly as planned.
“Before I start this speech, a few people need to be mentioned for physically getting me here, and on time,” Ferreira said. “All said and done, we are Aspenites and we don’t give up. We are instilled with true grit.”
Despite roughly 40 hours of non-stop travel to get home, Ferreira, a 2013 Aspen High graduate, didn’t miss a beat when speaking to the 127 seniors who graduated Saturday, the 129th graduating class in school history. Of those 127, 102 received an academic letter, meaning they had a GPA of at least 3.2, while 44 graduated with no less than a 4.0 g.p.a. Nearly all will attend college in the fall.
“Admittedly, my goal was to be ranked third in an effort to avoid this responsibility of giving a speech at all costs,” AHS senior Sarah Scharlin Ben-Hamoo joked. “But being the overachiever I am, I somehow overshot, only to find myself standing here today. Big mistake.”
Ben-Hamoo, a future Tufts University student, was this year’s co-valedictorian alongside Owen Ramberg, who will attend the University of Pennsylvania. Neither had any issues instilling a bit of comedy into their speeches, with Ramberg even getting in a nice jab at Aspen’s current construction woes.
“I’ve never been a valedictorian before, and in true second semester, senior fashion, I wrote this speech in the backseat of my parent’s car on the way here,” he said. “Luckily, the detour bought me an extra 20 minutes.”
The roughly two-hour long ceremony also included a speech from salutatorian Sydney Forster, the giving of Tharyn Mulberry’s Principal’s Award to senior Emily Driscoll, and a tearful recognition and goodbye to longtime AHS counselor Kathy Klug, who is retiring.
“I feel like I’m also graduating today,” Klug managed to say.
Still, it was Ferreira’s miracle appearance that highlighted the afternoon. He turned professional and started competing in big events like X Games Aspen while still in high school, and thanked the staff for letting him miss a day or two to pursue his dreams.
“Where in the world do high schools have a ski lift in the back of the building? Aspen is truly one of a kind. It is abnormal to attend such a fine educational system,” Ferreira said. “While I was attending AHS, I loved every second of it. I would still go back there this day. Ask vice principal Sarah Strassburger or woodworking master, Mr. (John) Fisher, and they will tell you it’s true — I’m in the building as much as I used to be.”
Much of Ferreira’s talk was about his journey to Olympic stardom. It started four years ago when he was the first person left off the U.S. team for the Sochi Games, and how he wasn’t really in the picture for the Pyeongchang team after the first two Olympic qualifiers this past winter.
It was here he learned a valuable lesson and was happy to pass it along to the class of 2018.
“Victory lies within preparation,” Ferreira said. “I wasn’t kidding when I said this is where dreams are actually achieved. I’m also saying it isn’t easy to achieve your dreams. Get what you want. The only person stopping yourself is yourself.”
He finished in the same way he always does, by sharing his favorite quote.
“Love all, trust few and paddle your own canoe.”
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An unwelcome but familiar weather pattern in the Aspen-area mountains has created conditions that are once again ripe for avalanches. The early, ample snow in October was followed by dry periods. That resulted in a poor foundation for the snowpack. Steep slopes on north to east aspects pose the greatest threat.