Steamboat Springs Jessi Houston and Rebecca Timmerman have gone to school together for 13 years. Charlie Cogburn joined them three years ago. Lauren Keppler joined the group in February.
Regardless of how long they've known one another, the four students in Christian Heritage School's class of 2006 are like family.
While three of the four stood outside the school Tuesday, having their pictures taken under the spring sun, Timmerman pondered her likely summer job at Ore House at Pine Grove restaurant.
"Maybe I'll work there too, just to annoy you," Cogburn said, eliciting a shocked gasp from Timmerman.
"Don't even think about it," she said threateningly, "if you even come in there..."
"See," Houston said, "we're just like a family."
Keppler, who attended Cherry Creek High School in Denver before moving to Northwest Colorado, said fitting in at a smaller school has been easy.
"Everyone is really nice, really welcoming and really positive," Keppler said. "I don't feel awkward at all."
The group soon will split up, its members going their separate ways.
Timmerman, 17, plans to begin pre-med courses at the University of San Diego in the fall. The class valedictorian hopes to become a pediatrician and work at a clinic in Africa or South America.
"This school really helps you find out who you are," Timmerman said about her time at Christian Heritage School.
For Houston, 18, college might wait a year. Tuesday was her first night of training to become a hostess at The Tap House. She plans to work and save money before attending Azusa Pacific University, northeast of Los Angeles. Houston said she doesn't know what she wants to study but is interested in music, acting, computers, math and foreign languages.
Azusa Pacific has a special meaning for Houston: Her mother and father met there as students.
In March, Jessi's father, Brian Houston, died in a motorcycle crash near Grand Junction. An avid musician, Brian Houston taught Bible, history and math classes at Christian Heritage for 14 years.
Jessi Houston said Tuesday that she "is doing much better" and is glad to be caught up in activities and schoolwork at the end of her senior year.
"Really, for me, distractions are the best thing," she said. "The hardest part is that my dad used to run graduation. I'm senior class president, so now everything is falling onto me."
As class salutatorian, Jessi will speak at today's graduation. So will Timmerman and keynote speaker Jeremiah Kiely, a member of the Christian Heritage class of 2000.
When Cogburn walks across the stage, he will be taking his first steps toward Colorado Christian University in Lakewood. The 18-year-old hopes to play baseball at the Division II school while studying biology or business. Students at Christian Heritage often participate in extracurricular activities at Steamboat Springs High School, for whom Cogburn played four years of varsity baseball. He has made the honor roll every semester of his high school career.
Keppler plans to move back to Denver for the summer and attend the University of Colorado at Boulder this fall. The 17-year-old teaches tennis in Steamboat and said she hopes to study psychology or business at CU. She credited Christian Heritage with improving her academic skills and interest.
"It's easier to pay attention here," she said, citing class sizes of less than 10 students compared with 20 or more students per class in the Cherry Creek School District.
"I ask a lot more questions, and you can ask things that are off-topic or between the lines. It was a pleasure being here.
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