Saying you like your high school may not be cool, but Bozeman High School seniors graduating on Sunday say they're proud of their school and of each other.

"I'm really proud to graduate from Bozeman High," Dylan Nikoletopoulos, 18,

said at Thursday's graduation rehearsal. Whether at speech and debate competitions or music events or sports championships, he said, Bozeman High has stood out.

"I know it's the best education in the state of Montana," Nikoletopoulos said. "I know it'll serve me well in the future."

Some 410 students are eligible to graduate in Sunday's ceremony at 2 p.m. in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse at Montana State University, said senior class counselor Shannon Stevens.

The graduates of the class of 2011, Stevens said, are "dynamic, versatile, enthusiastic, energetic, full of life and creativity."

Twenty students will wear yellow cords with their caps and gowns to signify they're graduating with perfect 4.0 grade point averages. Eight graduates are National Merit Scholarship Finalists. Roughly half will attend in-state colleges, especially MSU or the University of Montana.

Two seniors won admission to Harvard University. Two won appointments to West Point. And collectively the senior class has performed more than 4,600 hours of community service, reported Bozeman Superintendent Kirk Miller.

At graduation rehearsal, kids were in high spirits, joking and teasing each other.

One guy and girl greeted each other with a high-five slap and "We did it!"

Principal Rob Watson, speaking into a microphone on stage, set some firm final guidelines. Buses would leave for the senior class trip to the Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho at 2:30 a.m. Friday. Backpacks may be searched, he warned.

A reminder that no coolers would be allowed on the buses was met with a loud "Awwwww" of exaggerated disappointment. We want to keep you safe and have no tragedies, Watson said. He urged grads to attend the Senior Sober graduation party.

Watson also asked students to take graduation "very seriously," for the sake of their families, relatives and guests. Don't start bouncing beach balls in the air during the ceremony, he said, because it distracts from the folks graduating at the end of the alphabet.

"We have a lot of very spirited kids," said Alix Clark, 18. She was a cheerleader on the frozen, snowy sidelines last fall when the Hawks football team won the state championship for the first time since 1917. It was really cold and really fun, she said.

Clark said she plans to attend MSU and hopes to become an English teacher, inspired by English teachers like Michelle Swinford and Tricia Thompson.

Sascha Smith said she plans to attend Pacific University in Oregon and hopes to become an occupational therapist. Smith, 18, was a leader of the clarinet section in marching band and played tennis for two years.

The Class of 2011, Smith said, is "pretty cool."

"Our class is really balanced - we've got really smart kids, really musical kids, really athletic kids," Smith said. "Everybody's just really friendly and fun."

Nikoletopoulos said his senior year was "great - I took five AP classes." He had been in marching band, soccer, speech and debate, and won a $1,000 Worthy Student scholarship, nominated by the math department. Now he's heading to Texas Tech, and hopes to major in broadcast journalism.

"I love sports. I like sitting on the sidelines and commenting," he said. "My goal is to be the next John Madden. He's hilarious."

"We're very outgoing - we're not afraid to be bold," Nathaniel Driscoll, 18, said of his classmates. Driscoll, who was soccer team captain and studied for a year in Germany, said the Class of 2011 feels a lot like a family. "No matter how different individuals are, we're still open to each other.

"I'm going to miss the people -- the students and teachers," Driscoll said. High school, he said, "is the kind of place where you grow up. When you leave it behind, no matter how sick of it you are, it's still going to be a huge part of your life."

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.




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