The message the Arapahoe High School Warriors Class of 2014 is sending to the community as they graduate is that they refuse to be defined by tragedy.
“Needless to say, this has been a very unique experience for all of us, as we have experienced true heartbreak,” said Hannah Bailey, class vice president, during her opening remarks at the May 22 commencement ceremony at Littleton Public Schools Stadium.
Instead, they want to make their mark on the world by demonstrating how they can rise above it, while carrying out the wish that Claire Davis' parents have for all of them.
“(We) sincerely hope that as you unfold and find meaning in all of this, you continue to realize kindness, compassion, forgiveness and a conscious commitment to love one another,” they wrote in a letter to the students they will now and forever be entwined with.
On Dec. 13 of last year, senior Karl Pierson shot Claire and them himself. He died instantly, but Claire battled for her life for eight days before succumbing.
Though her classmate cut short Claire's life, he couldn't take away her education, her success or her seat, saved for her between Christopher Davis and Riley Dechiro. Two of Claire's friends accepted her diploma on behalf of the Davis family.
Victor Pierce, who offered the welcoming remarks, said he has learned the things Claire's parents hoped during his four years at AHS.
“You can make a difference in someone's life,” he said. “Here I found a second home, a home away from home.”
Catherine Roche, keynote speaker, said they will always understand each other better than anyone else, but she'll never forget the outpouring of support they got from others, as well.
“Even though we might not have appreciated it at first, we are all better for your commitment to us,” said Catherine Roche. “We have come out on the other side stronger as a class, as a school and as a community.”
She told her classmates that while they've had a lot of success academically and athletically, their biggest accomplishment was overcoming their fear and reclaiming their school.
“I'm excited to get out in the world and show what it means to be a Warrior and what it means to be Warrior Strong,” she said.
Principal Natalie Pramenko hit some of the high points of what exactly it does mean: Members of the Class of 2014 were awarded $18 million in scholarships, and they sat for 844 advanced-placement exams. Their dropout rate is less than 1 percent, and they raised more than $12,000 for charity during Warrior Week. A dozen of them are headed into the military.
“You showed unwavering leadership during this very challenging semester,” Pramenko said. “You have shown us all what it really means to be Warrior Strong. You are special, and I will never, ever forget you.”
She introduced Mark Soldier Wolf, the only living elder to have helped cement the school's relationship in 1993 with his Arapaho tribe on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The elders decided AHS was a place deserving of their respect and endorsed the school's “Arapahoe Warrior” mascot, which was designed by Arapaho artist Wilbur Antelope.
“I'm so deeply proud of you, because I know the challenges that you've faced, and I'm willing to stand on your behalf wherever you go,” he told the graduates.
Roche gave voice to the hardest lesson the Class of 2014 had to learn.
“If I've learned anything this year, it's that life is short and opportunities are fleeting, so we have to seize them while we can,” said Roche.