The commencement ceremonies at Telluride High School last week marked the beginning of local students’ lives: college of some sort is likely for most, followed by a career.
Graduating senior Jaden Evans’ career in the box canyon has already been impressive: he is one of three National Merit Scholar finalists in his class. He took 10 Advanced Placement classes — exhausting the school’s math curriculum — served as a teacher’s assistant, and received outstanding achievement awards in AP English and Computer Science. Evans is also a 2A state champion in the 1600-meter track event.
Not only is he well rounded, Evans is an all-around good guy. At the recent senior awards banquet, MS/HS principal Sara Kimball presented him with the Principal’s Award. The honor is based on faculty nominations and bestowed upon one male and one female (THS senior Jess Pack) who excel beyond academics, demonstrating commitment to community and respect for others.
“Jaden is a gentleman, and one of the nicest young men I have come across,” said Kimball in her presentation speech.
Now Evans’ achievements extend beyond Telluride: he has received a prestigious Thomas Jefferson Scholarship, conferred by the University of Virginia, and plans to attend UVA next year.
The scholarship has been in existence since 1980; applications for the honor flow in to UVA from all over the world. In 2017, a total of 2,000 students from 36 U.S. states and 37 countries were nominated and 36 students received Thomas Jefferson scholarships.
Jeffrey M. Knetsch, a graduate of UVA who serves as co-chair of the Colorado selection committee, explained that there are about 120 selection committees across the country comprised primarily of alumni. Each committee selects one nominee (out of a total of 120) to travel to Charlottesville for a three-day final competition. Of that group, approximately half are offered the scholarship and of those, 35-40 nominees accept.
“The trip to Virginia was a chance not to just interview but to explore the school,” said Evans. “I found it to be so exciting. It just felt right.”
Most compelling, he said, were the people he met.
“The finalists who were there — the current scholars, everyone I talked to — were people I’d really love to continue to work and study with,” he said. “I felt very welcome.”
Evans was also comfortable with the Charlottesville community.
“Charlottesville felt like the right balance between a small, liberal town in a very different place,” he explained. “And of course, it is Mr. Jefferson’s university, so there’s a lot of history that’s very exciting to learn about.”
Three criteria are used to evaluate nominees, according to Knetsch: Excellence in scholarship, leadership and citizenship, principles derived from Thomas Jefferson’s original goals for the university.
“We don’t take into account financial needs or diversity,” said Knetsch. “This program is meant to attract people who are going to be leaders of the nation, the very best students in the whole country.”
Knetsch explained that the excellence-in-citizenship component is the most challenging to evaluate; in Evans’ case, it was his role in helping to open the new youth center at the bottom of Lift Seven at the Telluride Ski Resort that set him apart.
“It benefits people beyond him,” said Knetsch. “And not him, right? Because he’s off to college.”
Over the years, said Knetsch, there have been a few applicants for the scholarship from the 1-70 corridor — from Vail and Aspen — but none from the Western Slope. This year, 25 nominees from Colorado interviewed for the scholarship, and of those, Evans rose to the top.
Evans will receive a total of $280,000, which will satisfy the full cost of attending UVA for four years including tuition, fees, books, supplies, room and board and personal and travel expenses.
“It’s meant to be a number where the family doesn’t have to supplement with much or any cash,” said Knetsch.
Evans believes a big part of his receiving the scholarship is because he’s from Telluride.
“Telluride is a small mountain town and that separates me a little bit,” he said. “I also think the school district has done an amazing job of preparing me and all the other students here for this kind of opportunity.”
College counselor Karen Lavender said that Evans is not just well rounded. In this age of specialization, he is a true Renaissance man.
“Jaden is interested in everything in the world around him and he pursues that interest with a remarkable zeal,” said Lavender.
Visiting the UVA campus opened Evans’ eyes to the school’s academic strengths, which he views as public policy, law and philosophy. During his freshman year, he intends to take as many different courses as he can.
“Right now, my guess is that I’ll lean toward a combination of public policy and computer science and try to figure out the intersection of those two interests,” said Evans. “But that could completely change.”
Evans does not intend to run track and field for the Division I UVA Cavaliers (otherwise known as the “Wahoos” or “Hoos”) but he does plan on joining either the running or triathlon club.
“For such a small town, there’s been such a tremendous amount of support from the Telluride school district and that carries forward,” concluded Evans. “I’m eternally grateful to my parents and to the school district — particularly David and Karen Lavender — and to every other teacher as well for all the support. The legacy of being from Telluride is something I look forward to sharing at UVA.”