Grand Junction ceremony hails 339 graduates

Grand Junction High School co-valedictorian Michael Gebhard didn’t let a collapsed lung keep him out of a marching-band competition.

While many of his classmates were hitting the slopes at Powderhorn or just kicking back and relaxing during winter break, Jonathan Wright was hunched over his computer for a few hours each day, composing essays and answering multiple-choice questions in the hopes of winning a scholarship he had learned about only two weeks earlier.

His dedication paid off when he became one of fewer than 20 Western Slope students to receive a Daniels Fund scholarship, an award that ensures he won’t have to pay a dime out of his own pocket to attend college.

And on Tuesday, in front of a horn-blowing, sign-waving crowd at Stocker Stadium, Wright took the next step toward enrolling at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs by earning his diploma from Grand Junction High School.

Wright called the process of crossing the stage with 338 classmates, many of whom he’s been side-by-side with for the last 12 years, “surreal.”

“It was definitely an experience. It’s something I’ll remember for a long time to come,” he said.

Grand Junction High counselor Lori Plantiko nominated Wright for the Daniels Fund scholarship, a need-based award that pays everything that grants, other scholarships and students’ families can’t pay to attend any college or university in the United States.

“There aren’t words to describe how grateful I am to her,” he said.

Wright plans to study mechanical engineering at UCCS and eventually obtain his master’s degree in math, with an eye at becoming a math teacher.

He wasn’t the only student to overcome hardship at some point in his four years at Grand Junction to obtain his diploma. Assistant Principal Jami Moore told of how co-valedictorian Michael Gebhard refused to let a collapsed lung keep him from participating in a marching-band competition. He marched with a tube that had been inserted by the emergency room doctor.

Gebhard told graduates that while the word valedictorian meant a person giving a farewell, he prefers the words of Paul McCartney: “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello.”

“Say hello to graduating high school. Say hello to the best summer ever. Say hello to the next journey in life,” Gebhard said.


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