Steamboat student graduates from Colorado Mountain College at 15 years old
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It was 2016 when Jack Walsh set a goal for himself: he wanted to graduate from Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs with an associates degree in science.
On Friday, 15-year-old Walsh will achieve that goal, gradating as part of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. He is one of the youngest graduates in the college’s history.
“For the majority of my youth, I had a tough time finding a school option that was right for me,” Jack said. “In sixth grade, I was homeschooling, but I decided to try taking classes at CMC. I found that the classroom was friendly, the teachers were great, and most importantly, I loved the subjects being taught there. I began adding more courses, and soon after my first classes, I decided to declare a major.”
His mother Kathleen Walsh remembers Jack wearing a button-down shirt and a tie to school in the first grade.
“He’s always been eccentric,” she said. And he has loved music from as far back as she can remember.
In fourth grade, he started taking piano lessons from Christel Houston, and when he was 12, began composing music under her tutelage.
When he entered his first piece into the Summit Music and Arts Young Composers competition in 2017, he won first place.
The following year, the Walsh family lost a dear friend, Kevin Nerney, a former New York City firefighter who died of brain cancer that developed as a result of 9/11 cleanup. Jack decided that his next piece would be dedicated to Kevin.
He entered “Sancti Kevin” into the same competition the following year and won first place again.
In 2018 and 2019 he attended The Cleveland Institute of Music’s Young Composers summer program, where at the end of the program, professional musicians perform the student’s pieces. Locally, he has composed music for the church, Yampa Valley Singers community choir and for instrumental ensembles.
“Jack has a unique inner drive and a rare thirst for knowledge,” said Christel Houston, Jack’s teacher. “His passion for music has made him an exceptional student.”
And while Jack has always been passionate about music, when he started taking classes at Colorado Mountain College at age 12, he found other interests as well.
“Jack loves learning and has always been hugely curious,” Kathleen said.
One field that he became interested in at CMC was aerospace engineering. He cites Paul McCudden, a teacher at CMC and a cadet in the local Civil Air Patrol, as his mentor in this field.
“We were a bit worried when he started taking classes,” Kathleen said. “There was a new teacher who had just moved to town with his family, replacing the classes that Jimmy Westlake used to teach. His name was Paul McCudden, and we knew nothing about him. Jack’s first class was cosmology, and Paul was fantastic. Now Jack has taken six classes with Paul overall, and he has been an awesome mentor to Jack.”
Jack also has found a way to tie his love of music in with his love of space with an idea for a cycle of piano pieces based on astrophysics.
“It’s fun to see him develop these ideas and how his love for space has influenced his musical creativity,” Houston said.
Outside of school, Jack participates in the Steamboat Springs Teen Council and volunteers with his mother at Advocates of Routt County. He also was a junior coach for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and has been a SSWSC athlete for 10 years.
“I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t a lot of very late nights and quite a bit of procrastination,” he said jokingly.
But Jack credits his parents for helping to keep him on track and his role models, including Houston and McCudden.
“Without these amazing people, I don’t think I would have made it to the finish line,” Jack said.
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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In a survey earlier this month, 90% of teachers at Steamboat Springs High School that responded said they don’t have faith in the leadership of Principal Rick Elertson, according to the Steamboat Springs Education Association.