Tooele County School District’s Blue Peak High School graduated 25 students in a ceremony Tuesday evening in the Community Learning Center’s gymnasium.
An overworked air conditioner labored to pump cool air into a hot school gym that was packed to capacity with parents, grandparents, and friends of high school seniors on a warm spring evening. The seniors, clad in colored gowns, marched in to the tune of “Land of Hope and Glory,” from British composer Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.
It was a familiar scene, one that will be repeated several times this week for other Tooele County high schools. But the graduation ceremony for the district’s alternative high school was a special triumph for the school’s seniors, according to Principal Mat Jackson of Blue Peak High School.
“Many of our students have struggled against the odds to graduate,” he said. “These students have learned to really value education. Many of our seniors had to work to pay rent and buy food while attending high school and completing their degree.”
Student speaker Madison Empey confessed she didn’t start her high school years excited about working hard and graduating.
“I didn’t like school and I started failing,” she said. “Then I ended up at Blue Peak. It is a beautiful school. It’s not too big, not too small, it’s just right.”
Empey is a typical example of the school’s 100 students, according to Jackson.
“Our students aren’t pregnant mothers, smokers, criminals, or drug dealers,” he said. “They are pretty much normal high school students that fell through the cracks at our bigger schools. Lack of attendance or being short on credits for a timely graduation are the reason most of our students are here.”
School counselors and administrators at other high schools in the district carefully monitor the progress of their students toward graduation. They make a referral to Blue Peak High School when they feel that the school’s smaller size and credit recovery efforts can help a struggling student graduate on time, according to Jackson.
The school’s success comes from a dedicated faculty, according to Empey.
“I love being at Blue Peak,” she said. “The teachers here do more than just teach. They push success. That’s what I needed it to be.”
Kylee Buys, another student speaker at the graduation, agreed with Empey.
“High school was bittersweet and I struggled,” she said. “I never thought adults care and I thought I had to fight my way through school on my own. Then I came to Blue Peak and I am thankful for the support of the school’s staff, teachers and other students.”
Shelley Snow, Blue Peak High School’s former secretary, demonstrated a victory dance for the seniors before she gave the graduating class her last advice.
“Don’t forget this feeling. You worked hard, you didn’t give up, and you accomplished something good,” she said. “Bask in this feeling, hard work pays off, and now that you have graduated keep doing good things.”
Before officially presenting the Blue Peak High School Class of 2014 for graduation, Jackson told the graduating students; “You own your diploma. Now own tomorrow and own the rest of your life.”
“Be a person of value,” he added.
As the ceremony concluded, the audience rose to their feet. A recording of the triumphant grand march from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Aida” played while 25 graduates marched out of the school gym clutching a document that testified of their triumph.