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Aspen High celebrates tenacity of class of 2023

The loudest ovation of the 2023 Aspen High School commencement ceremony on Saturday went to Ricardo Saucedo.

His classmates, staff and those in attendance at the Benedict Music Tent rose to their feet and applauded him following his speech as the “pyramid speaker" for the class, a new role this year at AHS wherein the designee is selected by their classmates to represent them at graduation.

Saucedo stirred emotions not only among the crowd but even himself as he thanked his family for getting him to this point: graduating as summa cum laude — another new tradition at the school — for graduating with at least a 4.2 GPA, six International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement courses and 150 hours of community service, the recipient of several scholarships and a Dartmouth University commit.

“You make me proud to be who I am, to speak your mother tongue, to look the way I do, to have your culture, to love your food, to love your music, to be Hispanic, to be Mexican, but most of all to be your son,” Saucedo said to his parents during his speech, holding back tears and prompting immediate applause.

Shortly after, he completed his remarks to a sustained ovation.

His remarks centered on perseverance, not just from his immigrant parents but his class as a whole. The class of 2023 saw their high school experience immediately disrupted in unprecedented ways when COVID-19 closed school doors in the spring of their freshman year. The pandemic interrupted and threatened the next two years and was never all too far off even as they completed their senior year.

The group also saw the loss of a beloved classmate when Carson Clettenberg died suddenly in August. Known for his positivity and inclusiveness, Clettenberg was mourned throughout the school year on the football field in the fall, the lacrosse season in the spring and at graduation, where his No. 2 football jersey and a cowboy hat occupied the seat that would have been his.

Clettenberg’s family took the stage to receive his diploma, and his father addressed his classmates directly and privately, away from the microphone, concluding with, “I love you all.”

AHS sends off 128 graduates, according to a count from the ceremony’s program. Many are destined for colleges in 30 states and internationally, with others taking gap years to travel, serve in the military or take the next step in their competitive sport careers. Others are entering training or the workforce outright.

New this year, AHS added summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude distinctions for its graduates. More than 20 students earned the highest distinction. Twenty-nine students graduated as candidates for International Baccalaureate diplomas, as well. In May, the district recognized six student-athletes who had committed to play sports at the collegiate level.

The other student elected to speak was Peter de Wetter, nominated as the “capitol” speaker by staff and faculty. His remarks focused on flipping the bad into the good.

“If you turn on the news on any given day you’ll likely see a lineup of countless tragedies and it’s easier than ever to get caught up in all that bad,” de Wetter said. “I say this not to scare you. I say this to motivate you to dig deep and push past the bad, push past the suffering, push past the worry, guilt, loneliness, whatever it may be.”

Class of 2005 graduate and cross-country skiing Olympian Simi Hamilton delivered the commencement speech, regaling with a tale of a schoolwide locker combination lock shuffle prank that never came to be and advising the newest alumni on what post-graduation life might bring them.

“Simply being a member of this community, living your life in these mountains, engaging with our eclectic population of artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, teachers and people who have lived the stories other people write books about affords you privileges that you simply can’t find elsewhere. It’s what you choose to do with those opportunities that really count,” Hamilton said. “I’ll tell you the hard truth. There are people in this world that will judge you when you tell them you grew up in this valley and went to Aspen High School. But they base their judgments on just one pixel on a larger picture.”

Following COVID-19, it was just principal Sarah Strassburger’s second commencement in the historic home of the ceremony after it returned last year. Strassburger, named principal in June 2020, was celebrating her third graduating class in the role.

“Your class ended freshman year at home, in your beds, amidst a global pandemic. But you have ended your high school career with the utmost success,” Strassburger said. “Despite all that this world has thrown at you, you have continued the tradition of excellence at Aspen High School.

“You’ll be sorely missed not only by me, but by the staff and other students at Aspen High School. We look forward to hearing all about your future successes. We know there will be so many,” she said.

Rich Allen/Aspen Daily News