Photos and Video by Ryan Bonneau
TELLURIDE, Colo. — Holding a graduation celebration during a pandemic when large group gatherings are prohibited and social distancing is required, creates a unique set of challenges. However, the Telluride School District, with the help of Town of Mountain Village Transit Director Jim Loebe, rose to the occasion and hosted a graduation ceremony like no other—a Gondola graduation celebration held at 10,500 feet.
Yesterday, graduates and their families loaded the Telluride Mountain Village Gondola and rode up to an individual graduate ceremony atop the mountain with Principal Sara Kimble and Superintendent of Schools Mike Gass presiding.
With the health, wellness and safety protocols in place for graduates and their families to maintain proper social distancing, each graduate was assigned a time for arrival to the parking area, had specific times to arrive to load on the gondola from Mountain Village, and a time to be addressed by the administration awarding each graduate their diploma just off the top of the gondola. Their graduation site was unlike any other, sitting 10,500 feet above sea level with the Wilson Range, one of the highest and most picturesque mountain ranges in the United States, as a backdrop. They then walked to a scenic overlook with the historic town of Telluride below for photos before returning back to the gondola for the ride back down to Mountain Village.
“Our graduation was one of the most amazing events I have been a part of. It took the collaboration and work of many to honor the seniors. I have always felt it is important to celebrate student accomplishments and in the time when people cannot gather in large groups this was a special way to honor the hard work and perseverance these students have,” stated Principle Kimble. “I couldn’t be more proud of how the students and the community who all rose to the occasion and helped make the end of the year memorable.”
The ceremonies for this year’s graduation began with the filming of senior speeches, a production to be edited together and released to the school and all the graduates. Then the “adopt-a-senior” initiative was sent out to the community in order to honor the students in this uncertain time with an effort from the community to express its pride for their accomplishments by a show of public support.
Telluride High School ’16 Alum Jack Plantz made an astounding composite photo of the graduating class of 2020 by taking individual photos of each graduating senior and superimposed everyone into one group picture. The final product is almost undetectable that the graduates were not all together at one time.
The festivities began on Thursday, May 14 with a car and bike parade down Colorado Avenue with spectators and supporters cheering from yards, windows and doorways of Telluride.
Yesterday’s graduation festivities were kicked off by ‘99 THS alumn and pilot Aura Zink performing a flyover in the “Rainbow Rider” bi-plane in honor of her fellow THS grads. This was proceeded by the graduates riding the Gondola to their individual ceremonies.
Upon their return from the diploma ceremony, the Kanow family presented each graduate with a tree in order for them to plant their roots before moving on to the next chapter of their lives.
“It was quintessential Telluride! To take such a drastically limiting situation and transform it into something unique, exhilarating and awe-inspiring. A big kudos goes out to the administration’s commitment to find a beautiful way to celebrate our students’ accomplishments and resiliency. It would not have been possible without the support of Mountain Village and Jim Loebe and his Gondola crew,” said a proud Michael Martelon, CEO of Telluride Tourism Board and parent of graduating senior Chloe Martelon.