Gratia Fisher sang her last national anthem with aplomb, her family and friends cheering as she trilled the immortal lyrics, "O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave." Fisher, president of the Hotchkiss High School Class of 2016, then joined classmates Brandi Goddard and Megan Lange in a harmonious rendition of Bill Withers' "Lean on Me," accompanied on bongos by Andrew Zerr, and commencement ceremonies were underway.
In her salutatorian address, student body president Sophia Schelle thanked her classmates for the few bad times and all the good times, and said she wished the class had time to get to know each other better. "I hope that one day our paths will cross again."
Students selected social studies teacher Matt Kava-naugh to deliver the commencement address, "although I am a little surprised that kids chose one of their teachers today, considering how little attention they've been paying us," he joked.
Kavanaugh reminded students of all they've learned over the years -- the languages, computer programming and music composition. "And we all learned how to execute a proper Spumoni. "In civics you learned about freedom of speech, and how to express yourselves. But we also learned that you have the right to remain silent, and not all of you have mastered that."
Upon reminding them that they now know that the capital of Venezuela is Caracas, the entire class clapped their hands and recited all of the South American countries and capitals in unison.
Kavanaugh shared two pieces of advice. "It is healthy and normal to feel lost from time to time," he said. "Be flexible." The second piece, "Travel... Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness... Remember that you're a citizen of this world, and remember that humanity is more important than nationality."
Kavanaugh, who will soon move to New Zealand with wife Anita, wished graduates well on their upcoming journeys. "I wish you luck. I wish you health and happiness. I wish you success. But most of all, I wish you adventure."
Of the 53 graduates, at least 31 plan to attend a college or university. Six will attend a technical or trade school, and two will join the military. One is graduating with an associate's degree from Colorado Northwestern Community College and will continue her education. Another has earned her massage therapist certification from Delta-Montrose Technical College. Seven graduates are either entering the workforce or undecided about their future plans, and four plan to take a year off before starting college.
In addition to math, English and the sciences, they will study nursing and journalism, auto mechanics and education. Other fields include aviation, forensic anthropology, sociology, economics, business, psychology, music, wildlife management, ecology and biology, business and marketing. One will attend school on a soccer scholarship and study criminal justice.
Co-Valedictorian Nicholas Cambria reminded classmates there was a time they doubted this day would come. He reminded students that they had a lot of help along the way, and urged them not to go through life alone. "Everyone needs to find at least two or three people who will always be there for you," he said.
"Seems like yesterday we were at freshman orientation," said co-Valedictorian William "Will" Drbholav. "Through all the tests we had to study for, papers to write, sporting events, we never thought it would end. Well, we made it, and we couldn't have done it without each other's help and support."
Known for his sense of humor, Drbholav gave classmates one last laugh by telling a joke his uncle told him, and reminded them that "Laughter can turn a bad day into a good one, a sad day into a happy one. No matter your mood, a laugh will help."
He told classmates to have fun and love what they do, and shared a quote by Marc Anthony: "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life."