Senior class president Karsten Hokansen, left, Amy Hoyt, center, and Michaela Webb pose for a photo after the Winter Sports School graduation ceremony
Senior class president Karsten Hokansen, left, Amy Hoyt, center, and Michaela Webb pose for a photo after the Winter Sports School graduation ceremony Friday, Nov. 22, at the Utah Olympic Park. Christopher Reeves/The Park Record.
Families gathered in the lobby of the Quinney Welcome Center at the Utah Olympic Park on Friday, Nov. 22, taking pictures of their graduates lined up by the door of the auditorium in blue and white graduation caps and gowns. The Winter Sports School class of 2013 was ready to walk across the stage and get their diplomas.

The Winter Sports School is a private school operating for the first time as a Utah State Charter School in 2014 for high school students who want to be able to focus on school in the summer in order to train for sporting events in the winter.

Head of school Dave Kaufman welcomed graduates' family and friends while reminding his students that although they were a small group 10 students, to be exact they had accomplished many athletic and academic feats.

The 10 graduates hailed from five different states Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and excelled in numerous different ski events, such as Alpine, Nordic and Freestyle. One student was also named a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist, one of only 149 in the state of Utah.

"The smallness of your group is in no way indicative of the impact you have had on the school, faculty, staff or even each other," Kaufman said. "I've watched you bond, and it's really special to see, so I hope you stay in touch with us here and with each other."

Kaufman then invited David Armstrong to the stage, the first of three seniors who made remarks during the ceremony. He likened the Winter Sports School to a zoo, saying that each athletic discipline was a different species of student.

"However, the Winter Sports School is not your typical zoo, because there are no bars, cages or separation," Armstrong said. "We function as a cohesive unit of unique athletes, and despite our athletic and behavioral differences, we are all bonded together by the common desire to pursue our passions to the fullest."

Armstrong thanked Kaufman and faculty saying that attending the Winter Sports School has been an amazing opportunity for growth that is unparalleled by another other school he could have attended.

Keynote speaker, Park City Mountain Resort's director of finances Geoff Buchheister, told students about finding success despite failure. Buchheister was a collegiate Alpine ski racer for the University of Colorado Boulder and said he was proud of what had achieved in his skiing career but even prouder of the degree he earned.

Michaela Webb, one of two young women graduates, spoke about what she thought mattered or was most important.

"Although rock climbing, skiing, doing calculus and many other things don't have objective value, they can and should have subjective value; things only matter if you believe they matter and find ways to make them matter," Webb said. "With that in mind, my open expectation for myself and my fellow graduating classmates is not necessarily to go on to be successful business people, Nobel Prize winners or even Olympic medalists but to choose to do the things we find meaningful and find meaning in the things we do."

Karsten Hokanson, senior class president, was the last student speaker who thanked the school faculty and his family and friends and congratulated his fellow classmates. When Hokanson finished his speech, classmate Max Raymer approached the podium to announce the traditional senior class gift to the school.

The gift this year was a framed photograph of the senior class with the Winter Sports School sign in front of the new building they will operate out of next year at the corner of Old Ranch Road and State Road 224.

Then, the faculty speaker - math and science teacher Alex Burlacu - grabbed the audience's attention by telling the story of how he turned down an offer from Princeton graduate school, threw it in the trash and poured coffee on it to keep himself from changing his mind.

"If you know yourself well enough, you can make an intelligent decision, so I knew that was the right choice for me even if it was the wrong choice for every other person on the planet," Burlacu said. "Make sure you know yourself really well and make decisions off of what you know rather than what you think you know."

Kaufman thanked Burlacu for his remarks and handed out awards for outstanding achievement in different subject areas. Webb took home the awards for art, Spanish and science, Hokansen received the award for math and Hannah Hunsaker not in attendance won the award for history.

The David Seiger Math and Science award, which memorializes the school's original math and science teacher, went to Hokansen for excellence in the areas of math and science. The Kay Wright award memorializes the school's first headmaster, and it went to the student Kaufman said most embodied the mission of the school: Hunsaker.

The 10 graduates received their diplomas and flipped their graduation tassels to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance and were then free to leave the auditorium and take photos with their family and friends in the lobby.

The graduates were not only excited to be done with their studies but to travel, compete in their respective sports or head to college.

Hokansen said he was looking forward to focus on his skiing, travel and race the best he can and hopefully go international this year.

Armstrong said he was more looking forward to relaxing and "finding out who [he is] at heart."

Van Wright suffered an injury that has hindered him skiing-wise, so he said he plans to travel and explore as much as he can before going to college. He said he has applied to several schools but has not decided where he wants to go yet.

For more information on the Winter Sports School or how to apply, visit www.wintersportsschool.org or contact head of school Dave Kaufman at 435-649-8760.