‘Be the buffalo’: Steamboat High School celebrates 1st in-person graduation since pandemic | SteamboatToday.com

‘Be the buffalo’: Steamboat High School celebrates 1st in-person graduation since pandemic

The Class of 2021 will be the most closely watched graduating class in history, according to Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks.

As he addressed Steamboat Springs High School’s in-person commencement ceremony Saturday morning, Meeks noted it is this class, being the first to fully experience a senior year during a global pandemic then a transition to a more normal sense, that will forever be impacted.

“The Class of 2021 graduates are exceptionally resilient,” said Elena Wittemyer, the first of two distinguished student speakers during the ceremony. “That was particularly relevant during the pandemic.”

While most students end their high school experiences with proms, senior trips and celebrating their driver’s licenses with friends, the Class of 2021 ended its year with Zoom classes and frequent quarantines, which sometimes meant not seeing friends.

Still, the students and staff who spoke at Saturday’s event said students used the hardships to grow and better themselves, rather than dwelling on the difficulties and lack of normalcy.

“Our grade has managed to foster unity and spirit despite being divided into two cohorts,” Wittemyer said. “We’ve managed to continue with our athletic training even if it meant wearing masks, going to virtual club meetings that accommodate endless schedule conflicts, and above all, we’ve managed to graduate while having our year interrupted by regular quarantines.”

While COVID-19 shook up the year, students said they chose to focus on 12 years of accomplishments and unity rather than two years of trials. Instead, they wanted to reflect on their years in Steamboat and how the community prepared them to enter adult life.

“We are a generation of change, a generation that will accomplish so many things,” said Claire Bohmer, another student speaker. “People say that at every graduation ceremony, but something inside of me feels that is true for this particular class.”

Bohmer and Wittemyer spoke about Steamboat’s unique culture — waking up at 7 a.m. for ski lessons, coming to school late on powder days and knowing the names and faces of each of your peers in a small town.

“This town fosters greatness in its youth, whether they want to be Olympic athletes, artists, academics or anything else,” Wittemyer said. “This is most apparent in our exceptional athletes, whose determination and commitment is far beyond what’s expected of most adults.”

Because of Steamboat’s culture of breeding success and valuing hard work, Bohmer said she expects to see greatness for years to come from her graduating class.

“I known that one day I’ll see your faces in Ted Talks, magazine covers or news headlines,” she said. “Those little sparks that I see in every one of you is what is truly going to change the world.”

Staff who spoke at the event also acknowledged the challenges 2021 graduates faced. But they said the class will use such challenges to conquer other difficulties in life.

Lisa Tumminello, head cross-country coach, compared the group to a herd of buffalo, who don’t run away from a storm.

“As the storm rolls over the bridge, the buffalo turn and charge directly into the storm and straight through the eye of the storm,” Tumminello said. “Unlike many herds of animals who run off and leave their weak at the back, buffalo can be seen dropping back for those who might be wounded or need some extra help.

“You have charged the storm with a resolve and a resiliency that leaves your community in awe,” she told the group.

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