Grad ceremony

The Telluride/Mountain Village Gondola, which will be used during Thursday’s Class of 2020 graduation ceremony. (Photo courtesy of telluride.com)

The pandemic has stolen many things, beginning with 81,000 U.S. lives and counting.

One thing it will not get the better of in Telluride — not this year — is anybody’s graduation memories. Telluride Middle/High School Principal Sara Kimble and school district superintendent Mike Gass have seen to that. 

Kimble and Gass and a few colleagues were determined to make this year’s graduation ceremony not only a happy one for seniors — something it routinely is, anyway — but memorable in a good way. This was a big ask in this unprecedented time, and accordingly, Gass and Kimble’s ambitions were sky high. They were also cognizant of social distancing restrictions.

“We knew groups of no more than 10 people could gather,” Kimble said. “At first, we thought that the ski area’s chairlift” might somehow be involved. 

“But we couldn’t really wrap our minds around how that would work. Then someone mentioned the gondola. And we realized, wait a minute: That’s an enclosed space! We reached out to Jim Loebe (Transit & Recreation Director for the Town of Mountain Village), and it all came together.”

In perhaps another example of this singular time, Loebe was in Zoom meetings all day Thursday and could not comment for this story. 

But others praised his work turning a pipe dream into reality. 

On Thursday, the Telluride High School Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony will take place. “It’s actually like 66 separate ceremonies,” Kimble said — one for each member of the graduating class. Each grad will be accompanied by members of their immediate family in a separate gondola car, which will travel from Mountain Village to the San Sophia Station. Once there, the group will disembark, and the graduate will be awarded their diploma and congratulated by Gass and Kimble. 

The gondola car will be disinfected, the group will climb back in, and (five minutes or so later) another group will arrive in a separate car at San Sophia station, for a whole new ceremony.

Kimble estimates the entire event will take about six hours, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

“Hopefully the town will pipe in (the celebratory musical selection) ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ the whole time,” she said. “We’re working on that.”

It will be a most unusual day — Megan Murphy will make and donate “Miner Masks” for all to wear — with the vehicle of choice Telluride’s most iconic conveyance, offering views of jagged 14ers and the Town of Telluride, far below (try taking all that in in a car). 

“It’s a cool idea, and kind of outside the norm,” said Mountain Village Deputy Chief of Police Joel “BB” Burk, who is coordinating security for the event. 

“Our current pandemic situation,” as Burk put it, “made for a very challenging graduation ceremony, so somebody was really thinking out of the box to come up with this scenic spot.” 

San Miguel County Health Department Director, Grace Franklin, who approved the safety protocols to be put in place next week but does not plan to attend any of the 60-or-so individual ceremonies or, for that matter, even to be around at all (hovering “is not my style,” she said) called her role “straightforward.” 

“We have to adhere to state as well as county orders for social distancing, which are really strict,” she said. “It’s hard, because you have to balance all these pieces: these students were (potentially) missing out on a huge milestone, but you have to protect them from this virus. It’s been amazing to see the community come together in such a great way.”

Telski CEO Bill Jensen put it down to the ultimate executional prowess of one man. 

“Jim was the driver and creator of this,” Jensen said. “Telski is fully supportive, and thinks it’s a wonderful idea. I commend him, and the Town of Mountain Village. Ten or 40 years from now, these grads can talk about a very unique ceremony” that took place in a uniquely unhappy time. 

“In this day and age,” Jensen said, “that’s something special.”