It’s that time of year again — when the boys and girls who entered the halls of Moffat County High School four years ago as uncertain freshmen reach the day for which they’ve been waiting: the beginning of their journey into the world as young men and women who have learned a thing or two.
The Class of 2014 graduated from MCHS in a Saturday morning ceremony, with the school gym bleachers packed with friends, family members and other well-wishers ready to see the 101 former students make the transition into adulthood.
Following the grads’ entry into the gym and a flag placement by the Moffat County Honor Guard, the day’s events began with words of welcome from Principal Thom Schnellinger and graduate Austin Luker, followed by an acknowledgement by Guidance Counselor Paula Duzik about the thousands of dollars of scholarship funds provided at the local level in the past few months.
A recognition of retiring teachers Liane Davis-Kling and Terri Harjes was next, both of whom have been with MCHS for the past 33 years, Davis-Kling in government and history and Harjes teaching French and Spanish.
Evan Gaffney and James Neton went on to name the Outstanding Senior Boy and Girl, which entailed a listing of the many accomplishments of Derek Maiolo and Kelly Knez.
In introducing Knez, also the class salutatorian, Neton said Knez embodied the traits the award entails: a high achiever in academics, heavily involved in extracurricular activities and volunteer work and a regular example of “exemplary character.” He also mentioned numerous examples of Knez’s kindness, toughness and intelligence on behalf of the many teachers and coaches who have worked with her.
More than anything, he added, Knez is humble about her own abilities and a model of the Christian faith that is very important to her.
“It is plainly evident to all her teachers and friends that she has quietly and honestly tried to respect and, yes, show love toward all the people she encounters,” Neton said. “She truly treats others the way she would wish to be treated.”
Gaffney said about Maiolo, also the class’ valedictorian and president, that he stood out because of his ability to put others first.
“His academic achievement can be measured in the number of peers he has taught,” Gaffney said. “His popularity is derived from his championing for others less popular than himself.”
Gaffney also cited Mahatma Gandhi’s famed quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
“If this is so, then Derek represents a future full of hope and equity, a world so bright that many of us have never bothered to imagine it,” he said.
Maiolo visited the stage multiple times other than accepting this award, also presenting the class gift — funds for the revitalization of the school’s outdoor amphitheater — and delivering the commencement address, in which he encouraged his fellow graduates to live without fear as they leave the world of high school, handing things off to Duzik to announce the graduates and Schnellinger to present the diplomas.
Deafening cheers and the occasional air horn filled the gym as students went through the custom of turning the tassels on their caps to signify their new status after taking their sheepskins.
And, off went the headgear minutes later as the ceremony was complete, the fervor slowing down to hear Schnellinger’s personal message to graduates, reading the inspirational poem “Anyway,” and the farewell address by Susan “Jessie” Suits, who echoed many of Maiolo’s earlier sentiments by telling the Class of 2014 to take on changes without resentment or fear.
From there on, the march out of the gym was a mess of hugs, family snapshots and congratulatory moments.
Graduate Laurel Tegtman was among those trying to take on all the excitement, knowing the months to come will be hectic and emotional as she goes to Colorado State University to study nutrition. And, as much as she’s thought ahead, some things are still uncertain.
Ask her what career she wants at this point, and she’ll tell you she hasn’t decided.
“Not quite yet,” she laughed, adding that a summer job as a lifeguard is what’s got her focus for now.
Laurel was able to graduate from MCHS a year early, partly because of her participation in the Youth Experiencing Success Alternative Education Program offered by the school. Her mother, Joy, is the instructor for YES and was able to be among the faculty members sitting with the students during the ceremony.
“I’m so proud of her,” Joy said. “She’s ready to move on with life and she did it, she met her goals.”
Another mother-daughter pair was involved in the process, with Terri Harjes able to see out her final year at MCHS alongside graduating progeny, Caitlin. Terri, who announced her retirement earlier this week, said the finale of her career with the school is even more affecting with the knowledge that beyond the usual goodbye to students is something much larger.
“It’s always hard to see these kids go, and I always get emotional from that standpoint,” she said. “I won’t see them in the halls, but knowing I won’t see any others in the halls, that’s difficult. It’s time for me to pass the baton for the next person to take them into the new era.”
Caitlin, who will study musical theater at University of California-Irvine this fall, said the day was extra special for her.
“I always hoped we’d be able to graduate together,” she said.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.