It was standing room only at the Dolores High School gym, where 39 students received their diplomas on Saturday morning.
The crowded graduation ceremony came at the end of a year marked by controversy related to the school district’s leadership, but the graduates exuded nothing but triumph and optimism as they took the stage.
The Class of 2018 was larger than last year’s class and included students who had already received college degrees and other academic awards. A long list of speakers urged the graduates to remember what they learned in Dolores and to become kind, compassionate adults.
“Life is about putting others’ needs ahead of your own, and especially ahead of your fears,” Principal Jen Hufman said in her opening remarks. “One lesson that I have learned in my life is that it is much more important to be kind than to be right.”
The keynote speaker, English teacher Jessica Mulvihill-Kuntz, told a story about a girl who befriended her in middle school after she’d been bullied for having cerebral palsy, and urged the graduates to follow that girl’s example. She emphasized the importance of real-world friendships over social media and other digital interactions.
“My advice to you is to put down your phones and look around you,” she said. “The world is full of wonderful things and people.”
Class president Courtney Corbitt, valedictorian Cameron Elder and salutatorian Josie Majors used their speeches to thank their classmates and teachers for all they’ve learned over the past four years. Corbitt also honored Colton Coffman, a Dolores student who died just before her class’s freshman year, saying he had taught her “the importance of love.”
Majors said leaving Dolores High School would be bittersweet, and she thanked several teachers for helping her make it to the stage.
“Take chances, make mistakes, learn everything you can and most importantly, enjoy every step of the way,” she advised her classmates.
Elder, who already has an associate degree from Pueblo Community College, brought a paper bag to the stage filled with items representing her school years: an apple to represent her teachers, a cross to represent the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which she founded, and other symbols. She assured her classmates she would continue to support them in their post-graduation endeavors.
“We would not be here, ready to take on the world, without the presence of our fellow classmates and friends,” she said.
Elder, a Dolores student since kindergarten and a key player on the high school volleyball team, has been awarded the Colorado Boettcher Scholarship, which provides a full scholarship to any in-state school. She has decided to attend the University of Denver.
The classmates and friends who packed the gym Saturday morning frequently drowned out the background music with applause. When the seniors were officially declared graduates, they threw their caps in the air and sprayed confetti over the stage as the family members who packed the gym cheered.
It was the 99th graduation held at Dolores High School, according to Hufman, and the last for several members of the crowd, including Superintendent Scott Cooper, who announced his resignation earlier this month. He encouraged the students to take control of their lives after high school.
“Congratulations, Class of 2018,” he said. “You’ve made it.”