The inspiration for a 2021 graduate came at the last minute.
The night before his speech began, valedictorian Charles Joseph Gau III of Lyons High School was up until the wee hours of the morning, eating a protein bar, trying to find the right words. He suddenly thought back to a moment in his high school career.
Gau said he was filming a basketball game for the school and Colleen Ford, assistant principal and sports director, thanked him for his help.
“In a happy voice she said, ‘Charlie, did you know you were enough?'” Gau said during his speech on Saturday. “These words struck me with warmth and changed my behavior almost immediately. I realized something … you are important, you don’t have to prove anything. You deserve to be happy. You don’t need money or a reputable college or anything to be happy because you are alone enough. “
Gau was part of a cohort of graduates celebrating graduating from high school as the class of 2021 on Saturday. Around 2,000 students graduated from the St. Vrain Valley School District this year. There are opening ceremonies this week.
Gau’s inspirational words were among many Saturdays as students, teachers, and staff pondered navigating another school year during the global coronavirus pandemic. Despite the challenges the students faced, the topics on Saturday were resilience, pride and hope.
With graduates in blue robes scattered around the soccer field, Lyon’s middle and high school principal Andrea Smith spoke about the unwavering faith and even humor her students and staff shared during the unprecedented year.
“We survived and have succeeded very often through online learning, hybrid learning, back to online learning, and asynchronous Fridays,” said Smith. “We learned to deal with tracking and quarantining contacts and an ever-changing personal class list. Our seniors consistently showed astonishing resilience and flexibility. “
The headmistress of Mead High School, Rachael Ayers, also saw persistence in a time fraught with pandemic-related challenges in her students and teachers.
Ayers gazed out at the sea of black graduation gowns on the Mead High School soccer field Saturday, thanking teachers for giving online lessons to a variety of blank computer screens, foreheads, and blankets during the distance class.
“Nobody could have predicted the challenges this year would bring,” said Ayers. “But every educator with us today has made the effort to take kids with them and learn new technology tools.”
Ayers said to her students: “We hope you know the impact you had at Mead High School. Know that your footprint has been noticed. “
Mead High School valedictorian Sawyer Parker pondered the difference between his early days in class and graduation day.
“Not only did my appearance change during my high school career, my view of the world and my social life changed tremendously,” said Parker. “Those four years at Mead have allowed us to see and change things about ourselves that we would not otherwise have. Despite the hiccups along the way, we all got our way and I think we should be proud of ourselves for that. “
In the run-up to the ceremony, Graduate Carsen Steele posed for photos with his family.
“It’s been a crazy year,” she said. “We worked so hard.”
The hardest thing about last year during a global pandemic, Steele said, was staying motivated. But she gave the following advice to the next senior year: “Keep your motivation going even if it isn’t easy. There is a great reward in the end. “
Steele said she will be studying psychology at the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley and is looking forward to the next chapter.
Co-graduate Kevin Hughes said it was exciting to graduate.
“I can’t fully articulate it,” said Hughes. “It’s exciting, but at the same time nerve-wracking, just because I finish high school and move on to the next step.”
Being a senior during the coronavirus pandemic presented students with many additional difficulties, from coping with isolation to information retention challenges for classes in an era of new learning methods.
Looking ahead, Hughes, a multiple award-winning graduate of the National Honor Society, said his next entry was Front Range Community College and plans to move to the University of Colorado Boulder to study science.
Don Haddad, Superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley School District, wrote an annual letter to graduates and their families addressing the unique challenges faced by students and staff this year.
“Last year’s obstacles will not overshadow the thirteen years of hard work that laid the foundations for our graduates’ future success,” Haddad wrote. “Our students are graduating today at a time of major change around the world, and they are the generation that will become future leaders and innovators ready to solve the world’s greatest challenges.”
Back at Lyons High School, Gau left his audience with more food for thought.
“If I could go back to high school … well, I wouldn’t,” Gau said. “But if I had to, I would do it with all of you again.”
SVVSD 2021 Valedictorians
Erie High: Treya Pember and Alexander Juenemann
Frederick High: Brayden Berringer
Longmont High: James Stewart
Lyons Middle Senior High: Charles Gau III
Mead High: Sawyer Parker
Niwot High: Victoria Isuani and Carter Kruse
Olde Columbine High: Ariadna Gomez-Ortiz
Silver Creek High: Megan Mirkis
Skyline high: Ashwini Shrestha
Global online academy St. Vrain: Arden Bland