Steamboat Springs Deb Zimmerer fought back tears as her daughter walked through the doors of the Steamboat Springs High School gymnasium for graduation.
"Suzanne!" she called out over the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." "I'm so proud of you hun."
Suzanne Zimmerer nodded then smiled, and continued down the center of the gym as tears rolled down her mother's cheeks.
The largest graduating class in Steamboat's history 148 students basked in the warmth of several standing ovations from the standing room-only crowd.
It was well deserved; the class took in 84 local awards amounting to $78,000, not counting scholarships given by the students' particular universities.
"This has been a strong class," said counselor Mike Campbell. "They've been very aggressive on scholarships. They've gotten very high GPAs."
The student speeches were exceptional, loaded with humor and poignant memories. Valedictorian John Hottenroth, headed to the Colorado School of Mines, split the crowd's sides, telling sister Tess that she had "always been like a sister to me," and telling classmate JoJo Bucci that he would have to wait a few more minutes before he could beat up Hottenroth.
Salutatorians Ben Beall and Bryn Weaver, both headed to the University of Colorado at Boulder, presented a tag-team recounting of class memories through the years: the races to playground swings, middle school dances, the success of their sports teams.
"I'm nervous," said Kyle Svendsen, sitting with longtime friends Ty Lewis, Jason Flower and Chad Barczuk. "I can't believe it's over."
"I've known these people all my life and I'm not going to see them every day," said Annie Markowitz as she walked in full dress with Sarah Hill and Natalie Muth. "It's going to be a shock, but it'll be nice to meet some new people, too."
"It'll be a never-ending summer," added Muth.
The event was just as hard on the parents.
"I think you're prepared, life prepares you for them leaving," said Verla Percy, whose only child Tyler is headed to Colorado State University. "But when it comes down to it, yes, we're going to be sad, and we just hope that he has all the tools he needs to be a productive citizen."
"This is thrilling to be here for this landmark," said Janis Noyer, whose son, Gavin, was set to leave today to work at the Grand Teton National Park. "I've been giving him words of advice for about three weeks now. I don't think he wants any more."
His father, George Noyer, had a few left.
"Be safe and be kind," he said.
The graduates chose longtime teacher Tom Parrillo, who taught English during their freshman year, as the class speaker. Parrillo taught at Steamboat from 1992 to 1999 and coached basketball and baseball.
Parrillo compared the young adults' new journey to the learning experiences of his 18-month-old daughter, asking them to be aware of the obstacles they would face. He offered a challenge: How do you wish to be greeted at your 10-year reunion?
"Every challenge is a stepping stone," Parrillo said. "We can get out of the deepest well by shaking it off and taking a step up."