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Jackson Hole, WY News

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'Transformed' by the pandemic, the Class of 2021 walks away stronger

Jackson Hole High School and Summit School seniors step into adulthood.

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JHHS Graduation

The Jackson Hole High School class of 2021 throws caps in the air after the graduation ceremony on Saturday.

It would be easy to label the Class of 2021 as the class of the pandemic.

Global catastrophe upended the students’ final two years of high school, necessitating an overnight shift to virtual learning the final quarter of their junior year and a hybrid schedule for much of their senior year. With all the Zoom classes, pandemic precautions at sporting events, mask wearing during lunches and other alterations to their normal lives this year, one could be forgiven for permanently associating these students with the coronavirus.

The only problem is that they don’t see it that way.

“We aren’t defined by COVID,” graduating senior Annika Peacock told her peers, “we are transformed by it.”

JHHS Graduation

The Jackson Hole High School class of 2021 claps during their graduation on Saturday. Some students sported a pin that says, “Live Like Wiley,” which refers to the Jackson Hole High student, Wiley Jay Olsen, who died in a car crash on Highway 22 near Skyline Ranch last September.

In a variety of ways that theme arose again and again at the joint Jackson Hole High School and Summit Innovations School graduation. COVID-19 didn’t encompass the entirety of high school: It was simply one obstacle the seniors have overcome.

Last year’s ceremony took place in the parking lot, with families clapping and watching from vehicles. If that was the epitome of throwing an audible, Saturday’s graduation was the picture of normal, though it was held on the soccer field instead of inside.

The ladders of a pair of fire trucks held the giant American flag that usually flies outside Joe Rice’s Sidewinders restaurant, which school board Chair Keith Gingery said he “was glad Joe Rice keeps letting us borrow.” Screens on either side of the stage broadcast the proceedings — the speakers, the graduates as they received their diplomas, a touching video of teachers wishing students bon voyage.

In matching black gowns and mortarboards, the seniors filed in just a few minutes after 11 a.m., taking their seats in rows at the front. Teachers sat on the house left, waving to their students.

JHHS Graduation

Chloe Stines, a student at Jackson Hole High School, speaks at her graduation ceremony Saturday. See the Valley section for stories and photos from all the local commencement ceremonies in the past week.

Summit Innovations School graduate Connor Weeks started the ceremony, his baritone holding the notes of the national anthem. Then everyone settled in for the speeches.

High school graduations often feature high-powered speakers invited to impart wisdom on the newest batch of adults, and Saturday was no different. But the speakers for the Class of 2021 were not out-of-town big shots.

Instead they were examples of the potential in Teton County graduates. Gingery graduated from Jackson Hole High School and went on to become an attorney, a state representative and school board chairman. As master of ceremonies he introduced the speakers, including the keynote, Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson.

The mayor is a Class of 2004 graduate who left Jackson to attend Georgetown University but returned to spend the bulk of her adult life in public service on the Jackson Town Council and now as mayor. She told the students she hadn’t intended to become a public official in her hometown, but she took the opportunities and experiences available to her.

“I offer you to do the same,” she said. “Be open to what comes your way even if it wasn’t part of the plan.”

Morton Levinson was one of many speakers to grace the stage. Student body presidents Zoe Crisp, Tilli Rossetti and Sara White gave a rousing welcome reminiscent of a stand-up comedy trio. Peacock talked about what they learned through their years of school.

Chloe Stines highlighted the graduation of the first dual immersion class in Teton County School District No. 1, a group of students that has been learning together for years, many of whom earned the Seal of Biliteracy, an honor given to graduating seniors who demonstrate fluency in two languages.

To punctuate the program’s success, Stines delivered nearly her entire speech in Spanish, saying, “Sorry in advance to those who won’t understand.”

After the many speakers came the main event — the presentation of the diplomas. Seniors lined up and walked across the stage, in that moment moving from students to graduates, Gingery told them. Most smiled and waved; a few were more boisterous. Jacobo Martinez shimmied, danced and spun his way across the stage to wild applause from the rest of the class, and Leo Harland ditched his hat and sunglasses for a moment to huck a backflip before shaking the hands of school board members.

Neo Emery was the last name called. After he moseyed across the stage and through the crowd back to his seat, it was over. The graduates filtered toward the back of the soccer field for a group photo, then most headed to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for a gondola ride. They exited with parents and friends, headed for the rest of their lives, hoping they can put this year of difficulty and growth behind them as they head to new chapters.

For the Class of 2021 a simple congratulations from Peacock encapsulated the conclusion of the ceremony and the school year itself.

“We’ve done it. We’re here, and we earned it.”

JHHS Graduation

Sean Love hugs his son Jack, a Jackson Hole High School graduate, after the school’s graduation ceremony.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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