With the end of another year at the Winter Sports School, a graduating class of athletes moves on to whatever may come next. WSS is a private school that uses a summer-based schedule to allow the athletes attending to focus on competing in the winter months.
Twenty-seven seniors, accompanied by family and friends, walked across the stage at the Egyptian Theatre this month. Several students were from the Park City area, others came from as far away as Squaw Valley, Cali., Jackson Hole, Wyom. and Stowe, VT.
"The place was packed," said Rob Clayton ,the WSS Head of School. "The upper balcony was full. People were standing in the aisles. It was a full house."
Eric Oberg, the commencement speaker at the graduation and former managing partner of Goldman Sachs, spoke to students about his own experiences with alpine skiing and Nordic skiing.
"He was a great speaker," Clayton said. " He was a good athlete in high school, and he used his athletic skills and his good sense to get a job after college. He spoke about how opportunities will arise in life, and how we have to take advantage of them. Where we go and what we do leads to opportunities."
"That was a strong message for these students because this group is really driven," Clayton said. "They are so motivated, so competitive."
As the winter months approach, graduates are already dispersing to various corners of the country, ready to compete. Five students will be entering the Yellowstone Ski Festival Super Tour. Sarah Hendrickson, a graduating senior this year, took second place in the World Cup in Lillehammer, Norway, last week.
One graduating senior, alpine ski racer Taly Polukoff, gave a speech at graduation as the student body president. When she was trying to determine the subject of her speech, she tried to find the humor in her nerves, relating the experience to her dreams. Polukoff said she often dreams about embarrassing situations when she is nervous. If it is the night before a race, she may dream that she is stuck on the chair lift, unable to get to the starting line.
"It was a little funny. I talked about that stereotypical high school movie scene where the valedictorian is dreaming that they are naked on stage, and then I related that to myself," Polukoff said, "how I have something important to do, and how I can mess it up in a stupid way. But our graduating class was so awesome, I had no nightmares."
Instead, she focused on the small moments that brought the class together, moments like the last day of school when the teachers scrapped lesson plans and let students relax and watch The Lord of the Rings.
"Every single senior was lying on floor watching the movie," Polukoff said, "and I think that showed how close we all were. That's what I will remember from my graduation."
Fellow alpine ski racer and graduating senior Riley Greene said he is applying to colleges with ski teams, and his top school is Harvard University. He will be focusing on technical training this season, building on skills that will help him join a ski team.
"Our class was pretty competition-oriented," Greene said. "We could argue about whether gravity was pushing or pulling force or whether or not the ball was in or out. I think that pushed us. We are a combination of minds, these really unique, really special athletes who thrive at pursuing their sports."
On the night of the graduation ceremony, Clayton was able to meet a handful of parents from out of the state, meeting several for the first time. Some had flown in from across the country to be there when their students accepted their diplomas.
"Graduation is this very personal moment," he said. "It's not about getting you out the door. Rather, it's a finale, a grand finale. It's meaningful to the kids and the parents. I think that resonated through the entire class too, their gratitude to their parents for supporting them."