Students’ faces said it all.
As they entered the room to a standing ovation on their way to receive a diploma, emotions bubbled. There was elation, anticipation and smiles, along with tinges of apprehension. There were the goofy students, miming for the crowd, the ones with swagger, the ones who held hands as they walked in pairs, two by two, toward their future.
And, in classic Jackson tradition, there were those who wore cowboy hats under their mortar boards.
Tassels were shifted from right to left, caps were thrown and tears were shed last week as high schools said goodbye to the Class of 2018.
After several graduation ceremonies it was clear that valley schools were blessed with a driven, intelligent and kind senior class that will go into the world and do great things.
Amid all the polyester, pomp and circumstance, there were quieter moments of reflection as graduates pondered what came next. Like when the Journeys School seniors remembered their capstone class to Costa Rica and how, as a little band of seven, they’ve grown together. Or Summit High School students becoming emotional as their favorite teachers talked about each one of them and how far they’ve come.
Seniors will scatter — some near, some far — in the years to come.
Some have plans to work, saving money for future education and for life. Others are enrolled in community colleges, the University of Wyoming and private and public schools across the country. A few will take a gap year to travel the world and broaden their perspectives.
Here are recaps of the four graduations that happened the first week of June. Students from C-V Ranch, a residential school and treatment facility, and Central Wyoming College-Jackson, the town’s only community college, graduated in May.
Graduating from Journeys School is a family affair.
When graduates took the stage Wednesday, they weren’t just sharing it with their fellow seniors, a tight-knit group of seven students. Fifth- and eighth-graders — the classes of 2025 and 2022 — also had their time in the sun.
Learning at Journeys School is unique. The ceremony kicked off with Head of School Nancy Lang explaining students’ education from just the previous two weeks, a whirlwind that included learning about tagged foxes and studying the geology of the Tetons, as well as a few hands-on activities: mining, capstone floats on the Colorado River and solo trips to finish middle school off strong.
“That progression at Journeys School enables children to grow into confident, resilient adults,” Lang said. “The path is not, nor should it be, easy, clean or comfortable. Education is messy and full of discomfort.”
Amanda Kern was voted Teacher of the Year, while Heidi Kohler won an award before keynote speaker David Vela, superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, imparted wisdom to the graduates.
Vela said defining success means pursuing goals greater than oneself.
“Each of us has the privilege of living in the shadows of the Grand Teton,” Vela said. “And easy access to clear rivers and streams, sagebrush meadows teeming with wildlife and publicly accessible trails that lead us through these landscapes. No matter what stresses and challenges you will face, never forget the distinctive spirit of this special place. And continue to draw strength from it.”
Then students faced what for some is the greatest challenge of their Journeys School experience: Speaking in front of the assembled masses.
Drew Overholser reflected upon his students, people he described as risk-takers who aren’t afraid to fail. People who are open-minded and curious about the world. Jack Van Holland shared that while he thought he was ready to go to college in eighth grade, he’s actually grown out of his shell and is no longer the “scared little boy” he was back then.
Malie Curren also spoke of tackling fears — for her, spiders and heights. She thanked her fellow graduates for being compassionate when she needed direction.
Sydney Kitchen, who lives over Teton Pass, calculated that she traveled 12,600 miles every year to school. She attended Journeys for eight years, so that’s 100,800 miles, or the equivalent of driving around the world just over four times.
“That’s how much this school means to me,” Kitchen said.
The moon, she later added, is 238,900 miles away.
“And Journeys helped get me halfway there.”
Younger students and teachers lined the center aisle and the seniors, now graduates, walked through the tunnel with new adventures on their minds. The compasses they received from Lang, complete with the coordinates of Journeys School on them, will serve as a reminder of home if they need it.
Summit High School
Thursday was Principal Beth Auge’s last time presiding over a Summit High School graduation.
“I couldn’t have picked a nicer group, a kinder group, a more challenging group to go out with,” Auge said.
Graduating from high school is much like climbing a mountain: There are false summits and tricky ascents, and the going is tough. Summit’s motto involves every student reaching their peak.
“As a school community Summit always strides toward and strives for that life-changing peak of graduation,” Auge said, “while also helping prepare our students to reach for further peaks in the world outside of Summit High School. We hope they get close enough to the top every day, but, just like climbing any mountain, there is often some pushing and pulling and tugging and sometimes even some backsliding along the way.”
Auge and the Class of 2018 aren’t leaving behind just a school. They’re leaving a family. The support and the importance of teacher-student relationships was on display as teachers presented each of the 17 graduates to the crowd.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as students were recognized for the transformations they made during their high school years.
Career technology education teacher Doug Smith introduced Jennifer Abarca, a student who recently gave birth to a baby girl.
“You’re a bright, young, independent mother with a great future,” he told her before presenting her a gift for her new child.
Science teacher Brian Hager recognized Tamara Ashley Attakai as “one of the nicer souls I’ve ever met at Summit High School.” Hager gave her a squash blossom and a long hug.
Hager presented Davis Wilson-Robinson, someone he described as a large bumblebee flying around with purpose and direction. Wilson-Robinson, who has his sights set on entomology, teared up when Hager presented him with the gift of a bee specimen.
Many students were recognized for their strength in the face of adversity, like John Pool Heredia-Lopez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico City when he was 8 years old. Social studies teacher Stan Morgan called him a “survivor.”
“He said when he got to Colter Elementary School, he just couldn’t believe that there could be a school so beautiful,” Morgan said. “But I think he was even more impressed by the school buses than he was the school. He was like, ‘They were big and beautiful and yellow. I felt like I was in a movie. It was incredible.’ I think that might put things in perspective.”
Heredia-Lopez and a few of his classmates were the first in their family to graduate from high school.
More than anything, the students left their teachers inspired for the future of humanity.
“Someday she’s going to make a documentary about something that’s going to change the world,” Clint Traver, dean of student services, said about graduate Liberty Wagner. “That’s my task to you, by the way. I’ve been telling her for years, ‘You’re my hope for the future. You’re the one that needs to go out there and change the world. Because I’m too old to do it.’”
The Community School graduating class of 2018 may be small, but it is mighty. Graduates are confident they’ll leave a big mark on the world as future United Nations leaders, doctors, writers, musicians and more.
As Student Body President Caroline Kucera told the crowd, the class motto is “2018: so fresh and so clean.”
The class began their time together 1,382 days before that Friday. Eighty-two presentations and 575 final exams later, they made it to the finish line as one of the “most unified groups” Kucera could recall.
Now they’ll branch out to two countries and 12 states as they fly the coop and head to college — a big emphasis at this college prep school. Schools in sunny California seemed especially popular.
“The Exorcist” director William Friedkin was the night’s keynote speaker. He touched on everything from the Iraq War and police brutality to a near-death experience. He also warned students to “beware of the thought police” and touted political correctness as the enemy of free thought.
He told the graduates they should continue to develop curiosity and imagination in their toolbox of skills to be successful in the real world. And that they will likely do.
“I think I’m safe in saying the Class of 2018 is one of the most fun and funniest classes to graduate from the Community School,” Head of School Amy Fulwyler said. “You guys are truly a group of unique free spirits who have brought an enormous amount of talent, energy, thought and humor to the school.”
Students conquered many challenges in order to reach this day. Bella Morris, who lives in Alta, found herself stuck on the other side of Teton Pass for a week last winter. Reagan Nagel recovered from brain surgery just last year.
“You truly have scaled mountains,” Fulwyler said.
Other graduates were recognized for their unique hobbies and outlooks on life. Some, like Jackson Pond, were praised for thinking outside the box and being opinionated and creative. Rodeo queen Gracie Perry was recognized for her impressive dedication to her horses and barrel racing. Emery Rheam was praised for her work on avalanche safety and snow science.
“With every end comes a new and beautiful beginning,” Rheam said.
She doesn’t like endings, like the last day of a backpacking trip or finishing the last chapter of a good book. But she knows her classmates are in good hands.
“Regardless of whether you go on to become the president of the United States or move back to Jackson to become a ski bum and wait tables, you will be successful,” Rheam said. “Because success is not defined by how much money you make or what title you receive. Success is being happy with the life you have created for yourself and being confident in your potential. You define your own success.”
Jackson Hole High School
It seemed like half the town was at Jackson Hole High School on sunny Saturday morning.
Once all the balloons, cards, flowers and party platters had been plucked from across town, it was time for the festivities to begin.
“What a wonderful day,” said Keith Gingery, a Teton County School District No. 1 school board trustee. “All your hard work is finally paying off.”
Remember waiting at the bus stop, Gingery asked, with your shiny lunchbox and backpack, on the first day of kindergarten? Now 13 years later, he told the students, you’ve made it.
Staff at Jackson Hole High School, which recently ranked No. 1 in the state, wanted to brag — and rightfully so — about the seniors. This group of kids completed more AP courses than any class before. The Class of 2018 also comes from a generation, as Principal Scott Crisp pointed out, that lived through many pivotal inventions — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat — and momentous events, like 9/11 and last summer’s solar eclipse.
Even the coming of age of the selfie, he told the crowd, before taking one from up onstage.
Students reflected on what this journey meant to them. This class, they said, was one defined by activism and facing tough issues. It is also the class, at least in their opinion, that was “screwed” by a new schedule their senior year — hence the vast majority who handed Principal Scott Crisp a tiny screw as they received their diploma.
“Whether you’ve been a member of Jackson Hole High School Class of 2018 family since Day One or joined us in the last few years, every graduate here today has played a significant role in creating incredible memories and even stronger friendships that will stand the test of time and distance,” Annalise Zabriskie said. “At some point during the ceremony today it will sink in that this is our last time all together. Although it can be challenging to be surrounded by unfamiliar faces in the future, let the memories of your hometown and your high school classmates encourage you to forage new relationships and strong communities wherever you find yourself.”
Bailey Hills described the path to graduation as similar to running hurdles in a track meet: You can’t see the finish line among the obstacles, but you know it is there. Ian Renkes, who moved to Wyoming from Washington two years ago, said he’s learned that “great things can happen when you say, ‘yes’ to new challenges.” While the students in front of him started as strangers, they ended as brothers and friends.
Eleven students were recognized for graduating with a 4.0 GPA: Dayton Cornish, Christopher Galbraith, Bailey Hills, Adam Meadows, Alise Olson, Cole Pampe, Grace Prochilo, Cassidy Sebastian, Devon Topp, Aaron Trauner and Ryan Welch.
Giselle Garcia-Cisneros and Natalia Rangel de los Rios received a standing ovation for their performance of “Rivers and Roads,” a song by The Head and the Heart with lyrics about moving and friends and family becoming far away.
Teachers didn’t escape the limelight. Science teacher Rachel Warnick, who has only taught at the high school for two years, took to the stage amid cheers after winning the Outstanding Educator Award. Students determine the winner of the award, which honors a teacher who made a difference in their final year of high school. Students said Warnick made them want to come to school and never gave up on them as individual learners.
Longtime familiar faces, Alan Brumsted and Mike Witz, who have a combined 54 years of teaching, wished the seniors well. Both teachers are retiring this year.
Special education teacher Witz talked about the difference he’s seen in education and how students with “different abilities” are now much more integrated in school systems. Over the course of his career, Witz said, he’s learned what matters.
“I believe what makes an educator special, or anybody for that matter, is how they approach relationships,” he said. “I believe a good teacher, like a good person, approaches relationships from a place of respect, kindness and encouragement.”
Science teacher Brumsted took the stage with, of course, a demonstration up his sleeve. The first chemical reaction created red, white and blue in three separate beakers. The second turned orange, then black — Broncs colors. The crowd went wild.
And just like that, caps — and a few bouncy balls — were thrown into the air.
Juniors, it’s your turn now.