Barbara Lawlor, Nederland
Five high school seniors were handed diplomas on Friday afternoon. Although most students take it for granted that they will graduate, these five students went through a time when they wondered if they were going to make it—indeed, wondered if they wanted to make it.
It was a proud moment for seniors Shilo Epp, Fiona Kalil, Dan Hardesty, Sydney Radloff, Jackson Bayer, and Danielle Bayer, who all graduated from Chinook West in one of the biggest ceremonies in the school’s history.
Instead of crowding into the TEENS, Inc. lounge and squishing onto couches, parents and friends enjoyed the graduation in the gymnasium. The graduates, however, brought in the traditional couch for themselves.
Stephen LeFaiver, TEENS, Inc. Executive Director, greeted the crowd, saying it was the first time that the Boulder Valley School District Superintendent attended a ceremony. Dr. Bruce Messinger and Deputy Superintendent Diedre Pilch were both present to congratulate the Chinook students.
LeFaiver said, “This is our third year of accreditation and we take pride in creating different pathways for students. We are proud of what goes on here.”
In March, Chinook had invited Ryan VanDuzer, TV presenter, cyclist, travel video journalist and filmmaker, to speak to the kids. He was so inspirational he was asked to be the keynote speaker for their graduation.
VanDuzer said he led the life of an adventurer, joining the Peace Corps and traveling as he filmed his adventures. He told the seniors that the path to get to where he was had been difficult.
“Right now, you are heroes in your mind,” he said. “But you can’t do it alone. You made a choice to graduate and you put in the work. You already have the life skills to thrive in this world. Real life starts now. What will you do? There are no absolute truths. You are the hero of your own story, but don’t take the easy way.”
He told the graduates to be playful; to be a good person or be a dork. He told them they all had super powers and they should get out and “kick some butt.”
Each of the graduates had a chance to speak. Shilo Epp said she started school at Boulder High and realized none of the teachers knew her name, so she came to Chinook where she received total support.
Fiona Kalil thanked all her teachers for their support and said they helped her to work and stay in school.
Dan Hardesty was described as a guy who knows all about Jeeps and fish and has a kind, sweet heart.
Sidney Radloff said she came to Chinook as a junior and was able to finish. “I came to love going to school to see the teachers.”
Jackson Bayer told everyone he never thought he would be here, graduating. “And now here I am today. Thank you everybody who helped me.”
TEENS, Inc. Board of Directors President Greg Guevara said, “I am proud of the connection that the students here have with adults. The world is open to you now.”
Before everyone enjoyed the food and drink at the reception, LeFaiver told them that Chinook is planning to add an addition to the Teen Center and they need $50,000 by July 1 so they can complete the construction before the next school year.
The addition will include classroom space, offices for teachers, and new elements for the bouldering wall in the gym. He said that eight years ago the school had three full-time and two part-time staff, and now there are 11 full-time and eight part-time staff that are in need of space.
In this case, “If you build it they will come” might just mean bringing more at-risk kids into the journey to graduation.