The road less traveled

Grand River Academy graduate Tristan Mickels presents school counselor Shauna Hobbs with a flower during the school’s 2017 graduation Thursday morning at the Avalon Theatre. See photo gallery at

Graduates from Grand River Academy don’t adorn their mortar boards with sequins or uplifting mottos for the future.

They don’t bounce beach balls, or blow air horns, or hoot and holler at their friends.

They walked down the aisles of the Avalon Theatre Thursday morning with stoic maturity because most of them had worked very hard to be there.

“Our students don’t fit into the traditional model of education — they’re different types of learners or have different situations in their lives where they need to develop their own educational pathway,” said Pat Chapin, principal.

Some students graduate early, some may take a little longer, “but I’m proud of all of them,” he said.

Many of the 54 graduates gave credit to the school’s teachers and staff for making graduation a possibility for them.

“I was in a rough place in my life and I couldn’t have gotten through it without this school,” said guest speaker Elizabeth Agustin as she addressed the large crowd. Agustin explained that the teachers at Grand River Academy supported her, gave her an opportunity to grow, and believed in her when she didn’t believe in herself.

Like many Grand River graduates, Agustin took advantage of the school’s blended-curriculum that provides both academic and vocational courses, online and in the classroom. She graduated with her high school diploma plus 21 completed credit hours at the Western Colorado Community College.

Guest speaker and graduate Mya Hargrave held back tears as she explained in her speech the obstacles she had overcome to graduate. Hargrave said she is a teen mother who came to Grand River Academy for help. “They love every single kid who walks in the door. They not only changed my life but also my daughter’s life,” she said.

Hargrave graduated one year early and will soon begin nursing school.

Graduate Matthew Rees was given a standing ovation as he received the “Against All Odds” award. The annual award is given by Thomas Hunn Jewelers to a student who had to overcome overwhelming obstacles to complete their high school education. Rees faced a number of medical struggles as well as worked full time for a construction company to help support his grandmother while he earned his diploma.

“I may have dropped out if wasn’t for this,” said Patrick Boutchee, as he celebrated with his classmates outside the auditorium. Boutchee said he struggled with academics and appreciated the opportunity to work at his own pace.

Chapin, who helped establish the school seven years ago and plans to retire this year, said he’s seen enrollment in Grand River increase by 10 percent each year.

This year, there are 275 students and he expects that number to grow to 325 next year.

“We see alternative kids for a variety of reasons,” said counselor Susan Hobbs. “Our goal is to create good human beings, good citizens, and then graduate them.”


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