Steamboat Springs Sixteen seniors, most wearing suits or dresses, all wearing white corsages and some sporting flip-flops, walked into the wooden gymnasium of the Lowell Whiteman School Saturday morning to the rhythm of pop music and the cheers of parents, friends and teachers.
After a two-hour graduation ceremony that invoked laughter, tears and applause from the audience, the students filed back out of the gymnasium, leaving the school behind but taking many memories along.
"This school has pushed me to become the best I can, and has given me values I'll take with me for the rest of my life," said Britt McLaughlin, who was the student speaker for the ceremony. "I've had many unforgettable moments It's completely changed my life and who I've become."
Melvin Miles, a 1972 graduate of the school who earned the name "Smiley Miles" during his Whiteman career, gave the commencement address. He is now the superintendent of a men's homeless shelter in New York City.
In his speech, Miles urged the graduating seniors to consider a statement and a question.
The statement, "I shall submit to all, I shall surrender to none," referred to the importance of understanding and accepting reality as well as to the necessity of not giving up and of always trying to change the world for the better, Miles said.
"We must accept reality if we are going to progress," Miles said, "but we must never, ever give up."
The question Miles posed to the seniors was, "Who am I?" He challenged the students and the audience to always keep perspective on who they are and who they are becoming. He said that without this self-examination, it is easy to lose oneself to the pursuit of unsatisfying material rewards.
The highlight of the ceremony was the short speeches different faculty members gave about each graduating senior.
One teacher wrote and sang a song to describe senior Veronica Campanella, another donned a white rabbit mask to give Hennie Kashiwa his diploma and all of the teachers teased the students that they had come to know so well. The teachers also praised the students for their various talents and accomplishments.
"You possess tremendous talents, both academic and athletic," teacher Mitch Globe said in a speech about senior Gina Gmeiner. "And you give much more than you take."
Two of the school's most prestigious awards, the Head of School award and the Student-Athlete award, went to graduating seniors.
David Upbin, who received the Head of School award, served as student body president, played tennis competitively and maintained high grades through his four years at the Whiteman school.
He also won the Outstanding Day Student award and the Dean of Students award. In the fall, he will attend George Washington University.
"(Upbin) has contributed in many ways to the quality of every student's Whiteman experience," said Walt Daub, head of school.
Riley Whiteman, the grandson of school founder Lowell Whiteman, won the Student-Athlete award. Although Whiteman was only at the school for one year, he managed to contribute in a variety of ways, Daub said.
In addition to being a tri-captain of the Hayden High School's football team and wrestling at state meets three times, Whiteman received straight A's and played the saxophone.
"A soft-spoken, conscientious student and citizen, who thinks for himself and leads by example, he has always supported those who are around him," Daub said of Whiteman.
The third award presented at the ceremony, the Ranking Scholar award, went to freshman Lauren Farleigh, who had an unprecedented 95.2 percent average.
The Lowell Whiteman School, a boarding and day school with a focus on outdoor, athletic and international experiences, is not a typical high school. Before the graduation ceremony, seniors said the school's unique program provided them with extraordinary experiences.
Leigh Cohen, who will attend Brandeis University in Massachusetts next fall, said one of his most striking memories of his time at Whiteman was his freshman year biking and camping trip. During the second day, the group had to ride 40 miles to make up for lost time, and Cohen said the determination he gained during that trip has stuck with him.
"Mentally I feel like I'm a lot tougher and I'm a step ahead," he said. "College isn't just about academics it's a whole lifestyle." After his high school experience, Cohen said he's prepared for that lifestyle.
Veronica Campanella, who plans to lifeguard and take a road trip during the summer, and then to attend Colorado College to study ethnomusicology in the fall, said the teachers at Whiteman were supportive but still encouraged students to be independent.
"You get left on your own and get to grow," Campanella said. "They show you the light and let you go for it."
School officials said that this year's class, though it was small, brought together an impressive set of students.
"They're definitely free thinkers and enthusiastic they have opinions and they hold to them," said Meg Morse, the school's counselor, before graduation took place. "They each have their individual strengths. Every single one of them brought something to the table."
The graduation was a bittersweet experience for teachers and school officials. The students of the Lowell Whiteman School's class of 2002, with all of their talent, attitude, quirks, dreams and personality, obviously will be missed, but Daub said watching each student receive a diploma is still a joyful experience.
"We're really tickled when each one of them steps across that stage with a big smile on their face," Daub said. "They know they've accomplished a lot here and are prepared to get the most of college when they move on."
Susan Bacon is a summer intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.