The Sailors of 2023: SSHS celebrates class that worked hard to overcome mountains of adversity

Members of the Class of 2023 toss their graduation caps at the Steamboat Springs High School graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Kit Geary/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs High School graduated the Class of 2023 on Saturday, on a sunny day in a jam-packed stadium at Gardner Field. 

“This class came into high school a group of characters, and look at you now — you are a group with character,” said Kipp Rillos, SSHS teacher and graduation presenter.

Rillos spoke about his connection with the students in the class, saying that it was as if his own child was graduating on this day. He took off his cowboy hat at the end of the speech to reveal he had painted the number 23 on the back of his head. 

The Class of 2023 had a unique high school experience that was interrupted almost immediately by the COVID-19 pandemic. The group made it merely half a year into their high school careers before the lockdown began.

Speakers detailed how the class has had four principals throughout the last four years and how they turned adversity into opportunity. Distinguished student speaker Bradley Brungardt described his class as a group that thrived despite the “unpredictable, irritatingly unstable conditions of Steamboat Springs.”

Brungart spoke about how the challenges facing the class allowed them to form bonds like no other. He touched on the atmosphere the class was known for creating — one in which everyone was involved and grew in their knowledge and happiness. 

Students wave to the crowd at the Steamboat Springs High School graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Kit Geary/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“The mountains that surround us have not only been my walls for the last 18 years, but have become the walls that support all of us at SSHS,”  distinguished student speaker Taylor Graham said during her speech. “From taking our first run down Howelsen Hill on a bluebird day at three years old to driving around the back roads embedded in our mental GPS at 16 years old, Steamboat is not only a place, but a family unlike anywhere else.”

Superintendent Celine Wicks detailed the academic achievements of the class that she said is for working hard. The class racked up 181 community-funded scholarships awarded by local businesses, organizations and individuals totaling $350,000.

Taylor Graham, one of the distinguished student speakers, delivers her speech during the Steamboat Springs High School graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Kit Geary/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Wicks also notified the crowd at Gardner Field that the graduates had received over $896,000 in merit scholarships alone to go toward their secondary education. 

Alongside shedding light on the work the graduates have done to secure a bright future, Wicks also honored two graduates — Arzu Lopez Pantaleon and Luis Loya Camacho — who have chosen a path of service in the military. 

Students exit Gardner Field after the Steamboat Springs High School graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Kit Geary/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As students were reminded of all the hardships they were faced with throughout their four years, Rillos reminded them of the silver lining that came this year.

“Mother Nature herself was trying to help you make up for those two years in strict lockdown with a nice, big old school winter full of powder days and full of ditching my class,” he said.

Pedro Effinger shows off his diploma.
Kit Geary/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Teacher Mac Keys introduces one of the student speakers.
Kit Geary/Steamboat Pilot & Today
Ella Piret exits Gardner Field.
Kit Geary/Steamboat Pilot & Today

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