Barbara Lawlor , Gilpin County
The Gilpin County High School class of 2014 held their emotions in check until the traditional slide show was projected larger than life. Set to music that was tear-invoking all on its own, the students, especially the girls, let the tears flow as they watched glimpses of their lives flow onto the screen and then ebb into the past.
It was as if it just hit them—how happy they had been at GCHS, how many great moments they had had together. From kindergarten to senior year, most of these graduates had attended Gilpin schools all of their lives. And now, with all of them covered in gowns and topped with graduation caps, they stood tall, side by side, in a final lingering moment of their school years.
Eighteen students marched down the aisle as Pomp and Circumstance played, as parents and friends stood and applauded them. They marched from one life to the next. But first they had to go through the steps.
Once the seniors were seated, valedictorian John Holsten played the National Anthem on his electric guitar, a version that was all his own: tradition with a spin on it.
Gilpin High School principal Alexis Donaldson praised the work of the seniors and said, “I can’t wait to see what the future holds for every one of you.”
Superintendent Dr. David MacKenzie gave a brief history of Gilpin School, the early days, the divided days and now the gaming boom days of relative wealth. He asked the alumni in the audience to stand and be honored.
Senior Morgan Foelsch introduced the commencement speaker, Senator Jeanne Nicholson, Gilpin County’s homegrown politician, who has watched most of these seniors grow into adulthood. Foelsch described Nicholson as the living embodiment of progress in the county. “She has donated much of her time to the school and took time out of her life to support the Gilpin students.”
Senator Nicholson, looking bright and colorful, took in the class of 2014 with a big smile. She remembered the days when she was the school nurse and knew most of the kids, watched them learn about vices and how to avoid the temptation and have fun with each other.
She told the story of a Gilpin student who, when introduced to a group of students from a larger school, was embarrassed to tell them where he was from. He told them his school was too small. When he was asked where it was, he said, in the mountains. When he told them he was in the band, into school play, in student government, and involved in sports, the down-below kids were astonished. “You get to do all that?” Gilpin students are blessed to have the opportunity to try just about any club, organization or study quest they have their heart set on. Nicholson said that at her high school graduation, she had to introduce herself to the classmate sitting next to her.
“But now you should check out the rest of the world. You did everything you wanted to do here and the teachers had the time to answer your questions.”
After reading from Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the Places You Will Go,” Nicholson received a huge ovation.
The next person to be honored was long-time social studies, government, and speech teacher Karl Gates, who is retiring. Senior Tatum Lepro said that Gates, who has taught for over two decades, is the greatest teacher he has ever known. “He is a comedian, friend, actor, our very own Antonio Banderas. He enjoys having fun and makes every class he teaches interesting. He is retiring and we will miss him and wish him luck.”
Salutatorian Michael Bartlett told his classmates that it was time for them to become citizens of the world.
Valedictorian John Holsten greeted the audience and then addressed the class.
Holsten has a 4.1 grade point average and has been taking AP classes at Red Rocks Community College. He plans to use his knowledge to study aerospace medicine at DU, with the goal of helping military personnel in the Air Force.
Holsten was calmly confident as he took the podium and told the audience that he was honored to be able to speak to and for the Class of 2014.
“I would not be here today without the help of many people, most of all my family and the Gilpin teachers. We have all been given the freedom to learn, and with that freedom comes responsibility.”
He told his classmates that life is not measured by one’s breath, but by the moments that takes one’s breath away.
Kirsten Goodlett announced the awards and scholarships that the 2014 class earned, which totaled $349,850.
After the flower ceremony, when seniors gave a stem of blooms to those who had assisted them on the way, the senior slide show was presented.
Principal Donaldson and Superintendent MacKenzie handed out the diplomas and then it was time to move their tassel from one side of the cap to the other before tossing them into the air.
It was done. All those years of preparation for this moment. Family and friends of the seniors gathered for cake and hugs and lemonade and kisses and goodbyes.
The Class of 2014 is gone—on their way to the future.