The family and community support that's enfolded Hotchkiss High School graduates throughout their young lives has not gone unnoticed. Gratitude for the love and dedication of family, friends, school faculty and community members was expressed repeatedly during graduation ceremonies at HHS May 23.
Wearing red and white caps and gowns, the graduates entered the school gymnasium as the high school band played "Pomp and Circumstance." The audience remained standing as Jeneve Mitchell did an outstanding job of singing the national anthem a capella. Welcoming remarks were given by Ashley Ziemer, class president, then principal Paul Rodriguez introduced the salutatorian, Jordan Tamayo.
"As I look around, I can not help but smile and remember all the good times I've had with every one of you through the years," Tamayo told her classmates. After sharing some of her fondest memories, she added, "But no matter how great or not so great this experience has been for you, we can not be stuck in the past. I'm so excited to see all the beautiful things each and every one of us can do with this new chapter we're all beginning."
Commencement speaker Eric Hollembeak, a teacher and coach at Hotchkiss High School, is himself a graduate of HHS.
"Hotchkiss High School has made a huge impact on my life," he said. "In addition to working here every day, I am very fortunate to be a native of Hotchkiss. I've been a Bulldog for as long as I can remember and I treasure every moment of this time."
When he graduated 27 years ago, Hollembeak said he had his life all planned out. Using time as his central theme, he said he came to realize a happy life is a successful life, but the converse is not true. But in order to achieve a happy life, you have to realize there is no such thing as a perfect life, he said. "Life is full of imperfections you can not control, but you can control your attitude and your work ethic ... so go on, let life happen. Just remember where you came from and be thankful for all the opportunities that were available to you during your school years."
Before closing he encouraged the graduates to keep learning and re-learning, to be prepared for whatever the future might bring.
Nolan Egging, valedictorian, was introduced as an outstanding athlete and scholar who has served as student body president for two years.
While his GPA earned him the school's highest academic honor, Egging said the most important lessons he's learned at HHS didn't come from a textbook or a class lecture.
"For one, we've all learned how to deal with great disappointment. One of the greatest disappointments I'll remember is losing the 2016 Paonia football game by a point. However, that's part of another of our class's most important lessons -- pride. Despite our loss, we knew we had given it our all. Disappointments will come our way, but our reaction to them will define who we are.
"Another lesson we learned is tenacity ... I think we realize in order to make our dream come true, the effort must be put forth.
"I think the most important lesson we learned, however, is to be a friend." Egging said it's impossible to sit alone at lunch at HHS. "Someone will always be there for you."
Egging speaks from experience, as he made the decision four years ago to attend HHS. Previously, he commuted to Delta to attend the Delta Academy of Applied Learning, where his mother teaches.
"You guys, teachers and friends, made me feel, made me feel loved."
A vocal ensemble combined lyrics and body percussion to perform "Changes," built around the message that changing the world starts with just one person.
Athletic director Doug Horton made the annual presentation of the "H" blanket. This award is presented to students who have participated in three sports all four years they were in high school. Recipients were Morgan Miller, Kevin Chavez, Sam Rodriguez and Devin Curtis.
Following a slide show, diplomas were presented by principal Paul Rodriguez as assistant principal Doug Egging announced each graduate's plans for work, travel and college. As they moved off the stage, graduates were congratulated by superintendent Caryn Gibson, assistant superintendent Kurt Clay, school board members Richard Hypio and Jan Tuin, and the staff of HHS.
With prompting from Ashley Ziemer, class president, the graduates moved their tassels from right to left, then joined in the school song before leaving the gym for tearful hugs from family and friends.