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Every student has a story.

All of our graduates have led incredible journeys to graduation. Their stories inspire us to be the best educators, school staff members, parents, and community champions that we can be for them. We want to honor the incredible class of 2020 by sharing their own words with you.

Colton Lee

Polaris Expeditionary Learning School senior Colton Lee has one question for you: Do you want to buy a goat? Even before completing his senior year at Polaris and career in PSD, Colton found fulfillment on a ranch. Soon, he’ll head to Walden for that job -- “running cows and putting up hay” full-time. “The place that I’m working now is kind of what I imagined,” he said. “Working for this (employer) will be the connection to the job that I have for the rest of my life, which is what I want to do,” he said, referring to his long-term dream of managing a ranch.

Before then, Colton plans to pursue a degree in rangeland management or "something to do with wildland fire.” He will likely take a gap year, between high school graduation and the start of college. Following his journey in higher education, he wants to be a wildland firefighter. “Just kind of go get my adventure out and then settle down and do something more normal,” he said. Colton said his high school experience was full of ups, downs and “little weird learning experiences.” Freshman and sophomore years were about “learning how to play school,” junior year came with more clarity and experience and, finally, “I think senior year, I really started to take off and know what I wanted to do – taking my own route and path in life.”

Challenges he worked to overcome included balancing his “really big personality” with being aware of and respectful to others. He also developed strategies to sit still and not go stir-crazy. “I'm built to be outside,” he said.

So how will Colton change the world?

“Part of the reason why I'm really intrigued with the wildland fire stuff is that I want to be able to help people. But I also think that you should be able to do something that you love in your life in places that you love and with people that you enjoy." He continued: “I also think about like the type of person that I want to be when I'm 30, and I want my kids to be able to look at me and go, “Wow, that was really cool.”

"I want them to be able to see that life isn't all about how much money you bring in at the end of the day, but that it has something to do with like the mark that you leave on people and with people."

“Life isn't all about how much money you bring in at the end of the day … it has something to do with like the mark that you leave on people and with people.”

Aritra Nag

During his time at Fossil Ridge High School, Aritra Nag was driven to discover different outlooks on life and, even more importantly, his identity. "My high school experience has been a time of exploration where I've really tried to participate in a wide variety of activities and immerse myself so that I get different perspectives on everything.”

“I found my biggest struggle in high school to be finding that balance between all of these social and academic activities and extracurricular activities and really finding who I am and what emphasis I want to place on different things,” the senior said. Fossil’s senior class treasurer, Aritra was also National Honor Society vice president and a member of the Mu Alpha Theta national high school math honor society, the Science National Honor Society and the National English Honor Society. Outside of school, he plays competitive soccer and multiple musical instruments, passions born and nurtured since he was 5 years old.

“I really hope to be a problem solver.”

“We have really competed with some of the best teams in the state,” Aritra said of his soccer team. “We've traveled nationwide to participate in state cup and regional tournaments, and it's just been a really fulfilling experience in my life.” His proudest high school memory was learning where he’d been accepted to colleges after working hard to submit applications that represented the totality of his education and life thus far. “That was a really gratifying experience to find out where my options were for college and what I finally chose,” said Aritra, who plans to earn his undergraduate in biomedical engineering before proceeding to medical school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. “For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to contribute to the field of medicine.”

A volunteer at Poudre Valley Hospital for four years, Aritra said he’s encountered people from all walks of life and learned to appreciate the value of serving others. “In today's world, there are a lot of issues in the field of healthcare,” he said. "With an engineer's perspective, I really hope to be a problem-solver for these issues. And as a doctor, I hope to work directly with patients and establish that human connection and understanding that is so vital in today's world.”

Jamie Fortunato

Jamie Fortunato sees humanity through the detailed focus of a camera lens, and it has broadened her world view. The senior from Rocky Mountain High School found her passion in photography and pursued it all four years, taking senior portraits and engagement photos. Her senior year, she challenged herself to push it even further and began to build a portfolio. “My ‘Unplugged’ portfolio really means to me is to take a picture of one person in their most raw and true form,” she said. “I got to see the diversity of Rocky and the Fort Collins community.”

Her close-up portraits in high-contrast black and white capture the wrinkles, freckles and glimmer of humanity in her subject’s eyes. Capturing that humanity also became a huge part of why Jamie began to pursue a career in nursing. “When I think of my biggest accomplishment in high school, I think back to getting my certified nursing assistant license,” she said. “I really got to see that nursing is the job for me and the career that I want to pursue further.”

Helping people when they are sick and in need hit close to home for Jamie when her mother battled cancer and her father had open heart surgery. This challenging time for her and her family further solidified her career goals in medicine. “I've seen people in their most vulnerable state in a hospital bed. That nurse really is the one sense of comfort that they have,” Jaime said. “Getting to see that with my parents was really life changing and I hope I can change lives by being (there for) other people.”

Jamie plans to study nursing at Colorado Mesa University as well as a minor in Spanish communications. “A big goal of mine is to become a traveling nurse in the central South American countries,” she said

Maxwell Warnock

Poudre School District Global Academy senior Maxwell Warnock has personified imagination in music and art in science. “I think there's a lot of creativity in both science and music,” Maxwell said. “In music, you have to be creative to make it interesting. In science, you have to think outside the box to find solutions to problems.”

Maxwell has pursued this approach of connecting nature and humanities by being an accomplished pianist. He has played piano for 12 years, auditioned and attended summer music camp at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he ultimately earned a spot in CU’s music program. “I think it’s just fun to share music with other people,” he said. “It’s a nice way to relax and get away from the stress of life.” A fan of classical music and jazz, Maxwell often practices from an old book of classical composers, given to him by his grandparents.

“It’s a rewarding and exciting time to take advantage of and enjoy.”

He is also passionate about fighting climate change and preserving endangered species. Maxwell is considering adding environmental studies as a double-major with music when he attends college in the fall. His internship with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program and success at the state fair helped push him on this path, he said. “My junior year was a high point for me when my science fair project on the glaciers in Grand Teton National Park won first place at the state fair and was recognized by the National Park Service director,” he said. “Our understanding of science and the natural world is vital for our future,” he said. “I don't think science alone is enough. We need things like art, music and the humanities to bridge our cultural and societal differences to create better connections and understanding between all people.”

Maxwell has also faced his share of adversity throughout his high school years. Dealing with dyslexia, scoliosis and spinal surgery did not make life easy. After being homeschooled through middle school, transition to public school could have added more challenges, but PGA was a great experience, he said. His advice to freshman just entering high school? “Don't worry! High school can be hard sometimes, but it's also a rewarding and exciting time to take advantage of and enjoy.”

Joeleen Castorino

For Joeleen Castorino, perseverance will always outshine loss. This Poudre Community Academy senior has had her share of both over the course of her high school years. In the second semester of her freshman year, Joeleen’s brother, her best friend and biggest supporter, passed away. “He was 11 years older than me and we were very, very close. We did everything together,” she said. “I grew up without a dad and he was kind of like a father figure to me. He taught me everything. How to ride a bike, how to write, how to read and how to love.

The tragic loss of her brother left Joeleen feeling lost and confused. Getting to school was a challenge most days. She missed most of the month of May, coming back to class a couple of times a week, at best. With the help of her teachers, Joeleen began to turn her course around – as she matured and developed a better attitude. “PCA helped me so much along the way after losing my brother, showing so much support and love. They never gave up on me,” she said. Joeleen also holds on to the support she had from her brother. “He always pushed me to do so good in school,” she said. “He always used to tell me, ‘I want you to be as successful as you can be.’” Joeleen found a birthday card he gave her to serve as a reminder, and anytime she was struggling, she pulled it out.

“I want to change the world by spreading kindness everywhere I go.”

“It says, ‘Joeleen, I hope you have a wonderful birthday. May all your dreams come true. I am proud of your grades and all the work you’re putting into your education. Please always be safe and remember how special you are. I worry about you because I love you. Please remember I am always here for everything and anything. Happy birthday. I love you.’” She said she learned to be gentle on herself and share her feelings rather than hold them in. “I just kept my brother’s words with me and never gave up on myself,” she said. “I always just thought of him saying ‘I can’t wait to see you graduate.’”

Joeleen plans to explore career paths while attending Front Range Community College. After that, she hopes to transfer to Colorado State University or college in Oregon. “I want to change the world by spreading kindness everywhere I go,” she said.

Will Young

There’s no denying that Rocky Mountain High School senior Will Young has the Lobo spirit. This self-described extrovert took full advantage of his years at “the best school in PSD,” as student band director, during spirit assemblies, in debate, and as Homecoming king and a member of the Link Crew – where he welcomed incoming freshmen with the advice, “just get involved in everything you want.”

“My high school experience has been incredible,” he said. “Seeing my brother go through his high school experience, I learned you need to get involved and be out there, be outgoing, meet lots of new people, and that’s what I did.” Will started high school as a three-sport athlete – competing in baseball, basketball and football his freshman year. But by the next year, he started to focus on what made him really happy – music. “I saw myself as an athlete more than anything else,” he said. “But I really wanted to find who I was and what I wanted to do. I found that music had really taken me in and become a huge part of my life.”

After dedicating himself full-time to his passion, Will began practicing three different instruments – and earned the position of student director as a drum major, while surrounded by his family and friends. Another favorite pastime for Will was performing in the Great Works concert, playing Vivaldi on the oboe with his orchestra and choir. “I took a step back and I realized where I was and where I came from,” he said. “It was a very special moment to be playing with all my friends around me.”

“Once you know who you are, you can just follow that path as much as you want and as much as you can,” he said. Will said he hopes to make a difference in the world by guiding people to follow what they are passionate about. “With hard work comes improvements through our community.”

“Once you know who you are, follow that path as much as you can.”

Janaya Keller

For Poudre Community Academy senior Janaya Keller, inspiration is everything. And it’s everywhere – in the bargain bins of a thrift store, her grandmother’s old sewing machine, a Tyler, the Creator concert. Janaya had a rebellious start to high school. She said she was skipping school, not following the rules and hanging out with a tight-knit set of friends that seemed to always be in the “out group.” “I realized partway through my freshman year that I wasn't really doing anything to better my future or put initiative into building something for myself,” she said. So she interviewed to attend PCA. “Ever since then, I've strived for more and realized that what I'm doing now can affect what I do later.”

At PCA, Janaya said she found teachers she connected with and whom supported her. She excelled – earning a 4.0 GPA, becoming a member of National Honor Society and taking business classes at Front Range Community College. She felt encouraged to follow her passion of upcycling second-hand clothes into her own reinvented fashion. Her love of sewing stemmed from childhood, when her grandmother taught her how to sew. “My sewing machine is very sentimental to me because it came from my grandma, who taught me almost everything I know about sewing,” she said. “It is very much my source of creativity. I see it and I just want to get to work. It's very inspirational.”

“Completing a project or a piece of clothing always gives me this rush,” Janaya said. “It gives me courage and inspiration and it pushes me to want to make more... because I see that me completing things will amount to something in the end.” Janaya hopes to one day own her own customized upcycled clothing business. She wants to influence one-use “fast fashion” clothing companies to be more environmentally responsible and reduce the amount of pollution they produce. “If someone were to ask me how I'd be able to change the world, I would say I could inspire people to do what they love,” she said. “Never give up and always push for the best version of yourself.”

“Find your wings.”

Gabrielle Werst

Sometimes letting the world go silent to take a swing on the teebox is all Poudre Global Academy senior Gabrielle Werst needed to keep moving. The senior and state golf champion has battled anxiety and depression since her freshman year. Gabrielle started high school at Fossil Ridge High School but said she wasn’t quite ready for it. “High school was definitely a shock,” she said. “Fossil Ridge was very big and very intimidating. I wasn't ready for how many students and many classrooms there were. I wasn't prepared for that.”

“Depression, anxiety, was basically ruling my life, and I didn't want that to be true anymore,” Gabrielle said. “That's what landed me at (Poudre Global Academy). That was the steppingstone to where I am now.” Gabrielle began to thrive. “The community here at PGA is absolutely amazing,” she said. “It’s basically a second family.” Gabrielle became an ambassador as student council president, and a member of the National Honor Society at PGA. “I really love it here and want to make a difference is people’s lives that is welcoming and accepting,” she said.

As a Fossil SaberCat, Gabrielle helped the girls golf team win eight state championships, including the Class 5A state golf championship last May. Gabrielle treasures her championship pin. “It reminds me of how hard we worked, and the teamwork,” she said. “It was an amazing experience. It was hard and a long journey, but it reminds me every day of what we went through.”

After high school, Gabrielle said she wants to welcome and encourage more girls to play the traditionally male-dominated sport. She said golf helped her come a long way in life. “Golf has taught me to cope with my anxiety and depression,” she said. “Being out on the course, it's like nothing else exists. You're just on the golf course out in the middle of nowhere, and enjoying the sun or rain or snow, but it's also taught me that connection to different people.” Gabrielle plans to study professional golf management at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. “I’m very excited to see where that journey takes me.”

“I want to make a difference is people’s lives that is welcoming and accepting,”

Jack Brecheisen

As a freshman, Jack Brecheisen was “terrified” walking into Fort Collins High School. Fast forward four years, however, and he’s found a home in his art and the Lambkin community.

Ever since third grade, Jack knew art would be a big part of his life. But it wasn’t until he learned more about digital animation that it clicked. "Something about creating characters and bringing stories to life is so mesmerizing and interesting,” he said. “And then as soon as I realized that bringing these characters to life was a career that I could do and could tell stories that way, I thought, well, that's what I want to do.” Jack is continuing his quest to work at Pixar Studios and has been accepted to some of finest art colleges in the country. “I feel like anything is possible,” Jack said. “Like your imagination is the limit."

Beyond the digital canvas, Jack ran track and cross country, is a member of the Fort Collins High School Peer Counseling program and has faced great adversity. In October, Jack’s father died. A photo of his dad in hand, Jack fondly remembered the man who supported him and his sisters. “He was always there for me and I'll forever cherish those memories,” Jack said. “Although it was really hard to get back into back into school, I knew that my dad would want me to continue my passion in art and to finish school with as much effort as I could possibly put into it.”

A symbol of his future ambitions, Jack has a stuffed Stitch from the movie “Lilo and Stitch,” that he received at a job-shadow for his financial planning class. “It's just another way that Fort Collins High School has sent me up to do something creatively and artistically.” The Scholastic Art and Writing competition, widely-considered the most prestigious in Colorado, identifies top-performing students. Being identified as a Gold Key winner even once is an accomplishment. Jack won six of the awards and will be featured at the History Colorado Center in Denver. When he won, Jack was stunned. "It made me feel like all the work that I put into these last four years of high school and into my art career had really paid off,” he said. “But I couldn't have done that without any of the support from my teachers.”

"I feel like anything is possible. Your imagination is the limit."

Elise Golyer

At 4 feet 9 inches, Elise Golyer’s stature may fool some to believe she’s not strong. But this Poudre High School senior wrestler has a fighting spirit, both on and off the mat.

As a freshman, Elise became PHS’s first female wrestler. With added encouragement from her dad, who is also the wrestling coach, what was seen as rebellious turned into a four-year career. “I proved to everyone that no, this is a sport I like to do because of the connections you make and the teammates,” Elise said. “This was a way of me forming those close relationships.”

She wasn’t always good. In fact, she was close to quitting her first match facing the only other female in her weight class. “Oh, she knew how to throw a headlock,” she said recounting how hard she took the loss. “I was fighting, I came out there sweaty with a bloody nose, crying and that was my first experience,” she said.

Elise stuck with her sport. She took on opponents with nearly a 12-pound advantage– and won first in her tournament. She fondly remembers a workout competition when she won a red, white and blue headband after running with weight held over her head longer than her teammates – 20 all male teammates. She put that same determination into a wrestling event called Hell Week. It was tough, but nothing more than she was used to. A day later, sore muscles in her legs turned debilitating, and Elise was rushed to the emergency room. She was diagnosed with Compartmental Syndrome, which was causing muscle weakness and excruciating pain in her legs.

“When I was injured, I had a hard time,” she said. “I felt so much pressure… like I have to be the first girl to win state. I had one bad match that messed up my matches for the rest of the day. I had so many things to overcome.” But Elise has learned a lot from her experiences. “You can turn the match at any moment, get up off your back…and face them again,” she said. “You can always get up and keep fighting.”

Elise plans to study social work at Colorado State University and hopes to work with younger kids facing adversity.

"There’s always a chance. Get up and keep fighting."

Alyssa Keirn

Don’t worry about what other people think. “Just go out and do your science and I promise it will work,” said Alyssa Keirn, a senior at Rocky Mountain High School and member of the Class of 2020.

Alyssa said her time at Rocky Mountain High School has been pretty awesome. She got into Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, courses early on and, with laser focus, carved her own path in science. She then started taking classes in chemistry and physics at Colorado State University her senior year. At CSU, Alyssa built four decontaminators, powered off the grid, to clean bacteria off the surfaces of food. “I wanted to create something that could help save lives.”

“Rocky allowed me to really choose my passions as I was traveling through high school and allowed me to focus in on science courses,” she said. Alyssa also took full advantage of joining the many clubs Rocky has to offer to try new things like mountain biking, coding and National Honor Society. “Social-wise, Rocky has a lot of fun spirit, and the Lobo Way was especially helpful for me transitioning to high school.”

One of her most cherished ways to get involved and stay connected was attending international science fairs. A tradition at fairs is to bring a pin that represents where you’re from and exchange pins with other participants. “This allows us, as we’re competing, to connect with each other and cross international borders.”

Alyssa said she wants to use her science to change the world. “I want to be an electrical engineer, and I want to be on frontlines of new technology and building new things.” “I picture science as this incredibly powerful force for change,” she said. “With other disciplines, you can create something, but people can make it their own thing. But with science, it doesn’t change. It’s permanent. It has the power to go out and make a difference,” she said. “And I just really like math.”

"Just go for it and don’t worry about what other people are going to think."

Stefany Moreno Torres

Stefany Moreno Torres is about as outgoing as it gets. She’s quick to laugh and seems to know just about everyone who walks the halls of Poudre High School. But it wasn’t always this way for the graduating Impala. When Stefany walked through her school’s doors for the first time, she wasn’t sure if she could do it. She had moved to Fort Collins from Mexico just one day before and felt like the rug had been pulled out from under her.

“I didn’t know any English,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody here. Other students would talk to me and try to be nice, but I didn’t answer because I didn’t want to mess it up.” She remembers feeling like she couldn’t express herself; like she couldn’t show her classmates who she really was. Determined to find her voice again, Stefany came to school every day and worked tirelessly to develop her English skills and adjust to her new life in a completely different place.

Far from the shy freshman who walked through the doors of Poudre High School, she is now a confident student leader, who works as an ambassador to help freshman adjust to high school. Fluent in both English and Spanish, Stefany translates for friends, classmates and family members who need it.

"I want to help whoever comes across my path."