Story and photos by Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – Twenty-three royal blue mortarboards were sent aloft into the azure Montana sky on June 6, closing the commencement ceremony for Lone Peak High School’s 2015 graduating class.

The 23 Big Sky students are collectively bound for 16 different colleges and universities in 10 different states coast to coast. The 2015 class will matriculate next fall at schools from California’s Stanford and Pepperdine universities, east to Minnesota’s St. Olaf College and Boston University in Massachusetts, among others.

“If you wanted to start a school and have four grade levels with this caliber [of] students in the graduating class, you’d have a blue ribbon, very prestigious school,” said outgoing Superintendent Jerry House prior to the ceremony. “These kids are going to have their sights set pretty high. They’re raising the bar [at LPHS].”

The ceremony began at 1 p.m. in the LPHS gymnasium with more than 200 attendees occupying every available seat, and some standing near the gym’s entrance. After the high school band performed the national anthem, Superintendent House opened the remarks by welcoming the crowd and introducing the Big Sky School District Board of Trustees. He explained how this sixth LPHS graduating class set a school standard with its academic excellence.

Outgoing assistant principal Tom Yahraes then implored the graduates to put service above themselves – service to others, their community and the environment. “Satisfaction is not how much you get,” Yahraes said. “It’s how much you give.”

Trevor House followed Yahraes with the class address, asking friends and family that have supported this group to applaud themselves. He then mentioned every LPHS teacher by name, sharing a personal anecdote about each one and thanked all parents in attendance – and his own specifically – before quoting Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Language Arts teacher Patty Hamblin fought back tears as she took the podium to deliver the faculty address.

“Never forget where you came from,” Hamblin told the graduates after praising their accomplishments. “All a community wants is something to be proud of … This community has shaped you into who you are today.”

Valedictorian Gabby Michel then told the crowd how the class of 2015 buried a time capsule while in middle school, and had spent the past few weeks trying to find it. Laughter rippled through the auditorium as she described the more than 20 holes she and her classmates dug without success.

“No, we didn’t make a map,” Michel said. “Hindsight is 20/20.” She reflected on the moments she shared with her classmates through the years, including fireside discussions during Expedition Yellowstone; the LPHS football team’s very first playoff win this season; the high school’s first staged musical last year; and Harbor’s Hero Run, a 5K fundraiser organized by the National Honor Society to commemorate six-year-old Harbor DeWaard who died this January.

Dr. Peter Schmieding, a dentist who practices in Big Sky, gave the keynote address about service. Schmieding joked that Justin Timberlake was asked to speak but had a conflict and asked Schmieding to address the class instead.

Schmieding co-founded Tsering’s Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to the education of Nepali girls. Since the April 25 earthquake that shattered Nepal, he’s traveled to the country for the relief effort and used Tsering’s Fund to raise money for those affected.

“Everyone in their heart wants to do something to help someone else,” Schmieding said.

As the graduates were called to the stage, Superintendent House recited each of their academic, athletic and artistic accomplishments at LPHS, as well as the scholarships they received and colleges they’re attending. After the diplomas were presented, the school band performed “Alma Mater,” written and composed by graduate Quinn House.

Applause filled the auditorium as the class of 2015 left the gymnasium. The alumni filed out to the school’s courtyard where they sent their mortarboards skyward.

LPHS Valedictorian Gabby Michel reflects on experiences with her 22 former classmates at the June 6 commencement ceremony.

LPHS Valedictorian Gabby Michel reflects on experiences with her 22 former classmates at the June 6 commencement ceremony.