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Photo by Robbie Winne Graduate Jesus Macias introduces guest speaker Carrie Yantzer (left), who served as principal at Hotchkiss K-8 when the Class of 2019 were students there.
Photo by Robbie Winne This year’s recipients of the “H” blankets for outstanding athletes were Kaiya Firor and Carson Collins.
Photo by Robbie Winne Co-valedictorians Katie Powers, Carson Collins and Kaiya Firor shared the stage to give their thoughts of memories shared and of adventures yet to be experienced.

Hotchkiss High awards 47 diplomas

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If ever a room seems too small to contain the emotions within, an auditorium packed full of graduating seniors, their parents, families, teachers and friends, would be such a room. The parents relive the 13 years that led to this evening and the students look forward to a whole new chapter in their lives. Even onlookers can be tempted to look back upon their own milestones and reflect on the twists and turns that followed. As the Hotchkiss seniors advanced to their seats at their graduation ceremony the evening of Saturday, May 21, the room was alive with the import of the occasion.

Ruby Shiflet, a Hotchkiss High student, sang a full-throated rendering of the national anthem and the ceremony took off from there. Class president, Caitlynn Littlefield, acknowledged the debts that she and her classmates owed to their teachers, the staff and their parents. She emphasized the fact that the teachers and administrators were always available to the students of the school and gave credit to them for the achievements of the class of 2019.

Salutatorian Alexandra Wrich took her turn at the podium, acknowledged the support that her class has received through the years and to recognize the bittersweet nature of leaving such a comfortable environment. She also recognized the value of that comfort in providing the tools with which to move on to further horizons. "Everything that we have learned has led us to this moment," not necessarily the trigonometry that they studied, she noted. The relationships with peers and mentors and the self-knowledge that they have gained through their hard work and the pleasures of friendship have paved the way for their futures.

Carrie Yantzer, the beloved past principal of Hotchkiss K-8 School, was guest speaker. She now serves as the president of the Colorado Association of Secondary School Principals and as the principal of the Nederland Middle/Senior High School.

She has a history with this graduating class. She spoke at its eighth grade continuation ceremony and recalled her years with these students, stating that they were all "still her kids." She thanked the graduates and the staff for the opportunity to come back to "Bulldog country." She was confident that they would prove to be "amazing young men and women who will inspire and motivate the world."

She reminded the graduates of their eighth grade class quote, "greatness lies within." She also reminded them that she had given them gifts at that middle school ceremony, pebbles from a beach that she had collected for them on a trip to Florida at that time. She cited the individuality of each pebble, the unique purpose of each pebble and how each pebble accents the other to form a mosaic. Yantzer reminded them of the advice she had offered then, "Be yourself, everyone else is taken."

She came prepared with another jar of pebbles to offer as her first gift to the students; along with a small globe she had taped to the bottom of each chair as a reminder that they each had the world and all of its possibilities in their hands. She also brought a luggage tag for each graduate, representing the travels -- physical, intellectual and emotional ­-- that will contribute to their futures. She urged them to spread their wings, welcome the unknown, remember their roots and work for those dreams that they cherish. Her last gift to her former students were copies of letters that she had asked them to write at their eighth grade ceremony, a letter to their future selves containing three memories of the K-8 experience, three words that someone else would use to describe the student, and three goals that each writer held.

Reminding each graduate to honor their own visions, to accept the new while remembering their foundations, to be always aware and open, she took her leave of her "kids" for a second time in their scholastic careers.

Carson Collins, Kaiya Firor and Katie Powers shared the valedictorian address. They spoke to the memories of awkward middle school dances, prep rallies, excitement mixed with nostalgia. Collins noted that one never knows the value of an experience until it becomes a memory. Firor said that although it is time to say goodbye to their high school years, it's time to say hello to new adventures. Powers shared her pride in her classmates' achievements, but believes that these successes are just the beginning of further accomplishments. The three graduates shared their appreciation of their teachers, their parents, and particularly their friends, with whom they experienced their formative years, complete with silly times, sad times, and challenging times -- all leading to this celebration of achievement.

The two recipients of the "H" blanket, which is awarded to outstanding high school athletes, went to Carson Collins and Kaiya Firor. Carson played tennis, volleyball and four seasons of varsity basketball, where she was named the team's best offensive player and the Western slope's all conference first team. Kaiya played soccer for Delta, three years of basketball for Hotchkiss, and blew everyone away winning eight state track championships, seven of which were individual. Both athletes were driven to do their very best and achieved just that.

Then the moment of truth arrived and diplomas were awarded to the class of 47 graduates. Of these graduates, the majority had plans to pursue higher education. One student has joined the Air Force and others were joining the work force. Several students have chosen gap years. A cumulative $375,000 of awards and scholarships have enriched this 2019 class. Ten students are members of the National Honor Society. The achievements of these hardworking scholars from the small town of Hotchkiss speak to a community that values its youth and provides opportunities for excellence.

An exuberant throwing of caps ended the ceremony and this phase of life for these young Coloradoans.

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