Seniors sail away

Class of 2006 ready for the 'ride of life'

— Before accepting "the very awesome class" of 2006 during Steamboat Springs High School's graduation ceremony Saturday, School Board President Tom Miller-Freutel pointed out that it takes an entire village to bring a group of young adults to this seminal moment in their lives.

As the Class of 2006's 141 students --rom Joel Ackerman to Hana Zittel -- were called to the stage to receive their diplomas, the message of collective accomplishment resonated most with senior Justin Lucas, a severe-needs student in the school's special education program who inspired the crowd's loudest cheers.

"For someone that spent the first three months of his life in intensive care and the first five years in the hospital, this is the biggest accomplishment of his life," said Lucas' father Steve, giving credit not only to the

high school special education program, but also to his son's classmates. "The community has a lot to do with his success. We can't walk downtown without people from his class giving him high fives."

Principal Mike Knezevich will be sorry to see Lucas -- student he said lights up his day -- graduate with what he said was an exceptional class.

"They have their own personality. There's a lot to be proud of, they're all great kids," Knezevich said.

In front of packed bleachers in the school's gymnasium, the graduating class enjoyed a short but sweet two-hour ceremony. It was a ceremony that Ann Barney, student council secretary and Class of 2006 officer, thought was a little shorter than years past.

Salutatorian Jake Epley certainly wasted no time during his one-sentence address.

"I figured I'd do everyone a favor and keep it brief," said Epley, who will study business next fall at University of Denver.

Alyssa Pierson used a notable Jerry Seinfeld bit comparing life to an amusement park ride during her valedictorian address. She delved into the high school journey and recognized the unique camaraderie that Steamboat's small-school atmosphere bolsters.

"I found out last Thursday I was valedictorian," Pierson said. "I was pretty nervous, but I had to make it entertaining."

Pierson plans to pursue math or engineering at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif.

The graduation program included the naming of local and university scholarship awards. The ceremony was aided by a slide show presentation made on the new projection screen, which was the senior class' gift to the school.

"It was a fun graduation. I really liked the slide show," said Sierra Lovejoy-Dragonn as she held her diploma along with a bundle of lilies and her fan corps' air horn.

Retired teacher Jayne Hill challenged the students to see the big picture from the balcony while using hard work from the ground floor in the metaphorical building of their lives.

But after the relief of achieving the milestone of graduation, most students weren't looking that far into their futures.

From Lucas' bubbly excitement to get to the bowling alley for a party, to Barney's need to run home to make a schedule for the day's events, most of Steamboat's Class of 2006 seemed focused on one thing -- celebrating.

"It's party time ... 30 minutes at each. I've got at least six to go to," Neal Ficker said.

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