Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Sun Valley Community School Grads Challenged to Be the Reason Someone Thinks the World is Good
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Rather than walk through the floral arch two by two, the pandemic ceremony called for each student-- Ella Sydney Kopplin, included—to walk through alone as “Pomp and Circumstance” played.
   
Sunday, June 21, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

They came into the world in the weeks and months following 9-11. And on Saturday the Cutthroat Class of 2020 graduated in the midst of a global pandemic.

But Sun Valley Community School’s Head of School Ben Pettit noted the possibilities that lay ahead for these 49 young men and women:

“We stand on the edge of change now,” he said during the commencement ceremony held at Trail Creek Pavilion. “I truly believe we are at a precipice as a greater society, just as these young women and men are at a precipice in their own lives. They have the opportunity to reshape and reimagine themselves in their next step just as they have the opportunity, the responsibility, to help create a brighter, more accountable, more empathetic, more equitable local, national and global society.”

 
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“As Dr. Seuss said, ‘Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,’” said one young graduate.
 

Relegated to distance learning in March as Wood River Valley residents were ordered to shelter in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the young Cutthroats received their diplomas in a drive-through ceremony on May 31, the day originally slated for their commencement ceremony.

But this was the first time, noted one graduate, that they had been together as a class since the pandemic swept through the country.

Staff had worked and reworked Saturday’s commencement ceremony to make it as safe as possible, with families sitting in pods spread out across the Trail Creek patio and Upper School Head Kevin Campbell wiping the microphone with sanitizing wipes between each speaker.

Retiring Upper School history teacher Gary Brendel, who had celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary on Friday, gave the commencement address.

 
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Shea Brokaw said he fears the Class of 2020’s legacy will be defined by the turmoil and pain of this past spring, “but that’s not who we are.”
 

Pivoting to the historian in him, he noted that the fur trader Alexander Ross had come through the valley setting up camp near Trail Creek. Native Americans had come here, as well, having reunions and celebrations much like the Cutthroats on Saturday, he added.

“Our mission for all of us is to discover the path to purpose,” said Brendel, who joined the school in 2009 and taught everything from research methodology to psychology.

Brendel likened the Cutthroats to the salmon, which are born in the streams near Redfish Lake and attach themselves to the rocks and smell of the water there. There comes a time they feel the pull of the stream and gravity and set out on a journey to the ocean. But, eventually, he said, they look back to where they come from.

“You’re going to go on a journey that’s unbelievable” he told the students. “Some of you are going to go further and do more than anyone can imagine, but you will always think of this mountain place as where your character was formed and where you came of age.”

 
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Very few people can say they have a family of 49, said Carly Walther-Porino. “It’s going to be tough to walk through life without all of you.”
 

Shea Brokaw, chosen a senior speaker along with Carly Walther-Porino, noted that statistically 10 percent of people take decisive action, while the rest either freeze or take destructive action

“I believe our values will lead us to respond decisively and with value,” he said. “We are the class that I believe will change the world.”

Shea Slanetz quoted Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t you’re right.”

That means it’s up to us to figure out what we will do, he said.

 
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Gary Brendel told students that having self-respect won’t help them get into college but it will make them a better, happier person.
 

Pettit noted that the Class of 2020 is special, having achieved great victories in everything from world and state sports championships to National Merit Scholarship accolades.

“Now, they’ve faced a pandemic and social unrest at the end of their senior year—things they’ve navigated with grace and humility,” he said. “And I know they will continue to live our mission and lead impactful, purposeful lives.”

Pettit told the students that there is a saying that he loves which is that the world is what you make of it.

“I ask of you: If you love parts of the world, help elevate those aspects. There are plenty of great things out there worthy of your support and advocacy. If parts of the world don’t fit, if you don’t like the injustices, impingements and systems, make alterations. Make yourselves heard as you have done here.”

Pettit challenged the students to make themselves better through study, their family better through patience and sacrifice, their circle of friends better through kindness and empathy and their local community better through a commitment to civic responsibility.

“Be the reason someone believes the world is good,” he added.

He left them with a quote from Rosa Parks: “Knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

“I’m confident that as you take your next steps and different paths that you know what must be done,” he said. “Go bravely, confidently, as Cutthroats, and do it.”

 

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