Rifle graduates celebrate accomplishments

Jacob Bullock, who has deal with the loss of family and then with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, receives his diploma for the Kaplan Academy online program from Garrick Frontella, program coordinator, at Rifle High School on Sunday.

RIFLE — With light hearts dancing with excitement amid brisk winds, members of Rifle High School’s Class of 2011 collected their diplomas Sunday.

Altogether, 107 Rifle students graduated during a breezy ceremony at the school’s stadium, along with five participants in the Kaplan Academy online program in Garfield County Re-2 School District.

This was a senior class with much to be proud of. The commencement speaker, Rifle High School teacher and Rifle City Council member Jonathan Rice, rattled off accomplishments such as more than $1 million in scholarships, all-state choir appointments, the seniors’ participation in theatrical productions, a girls basketball team that nearly went undefeated and a boys track team that this very weekend won a state title.

This also appears to be a class with a good sense of humor. Class president and salutatorian James Whitehead wore an irrepressible grin through most of Sunday’s proceedings, and valedictorian Jeffrey Coombs kept his address light. At one point Coombs observed wryly that graduates would be going their separate ways — except for the many who would be “going to Mesa.”

At another moment, when reflecting on failures by his class, he observed, “Sadly, we never did manage a senior prank.”

Like every class, this one had times when it was tested. In January, a popular Rifle junior, Austin Booth, died of the flu.

“Austin’s death raised a lot of questions in many people’s minds about what life is all about,” said Rice.

He said the incident challenged students to consider “how to live a life of value.”

One Kaplan Academy graduate, Jacob Bullock, already has come to learn much about the preciousness of life. Starting in 2005, he lost his father, grandfather, grandmother and uncle to cancer, and two cousins to a car accident and an epileptic seizure. Then last June, Bullock was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It’s something a kid shouldn’t have to deal with, but I had to,” Bullock said.

Bullock underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments that seem to have defeated his cancer. While in treatment, he could complete only some core classes last fall, but still managed to graduate. Even more, he also received his Eagle Scout merit badge Sunday.

Bullock plans to earn his pilot’s license this summer and then study in Colorado Mountain College’s welding program.

“I’m very proud of him,” said his mom, Patty Bullock. “He’s a strong kid; he’s going to make a great leader.”

Like numerous graduates Sunday, Bullock showed he was ready for a laugh — in his case, at his circumstances — when a quote was read on his behalf as he received his diploma.

It said, “When life puts you in a rut, pin it and let the mud fly.”


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