The responses varied from quiet awe to gushing gratitude.
About 200 seniors from the community surrounding Overland High School reported to the campus in Aurora on Sept. 23 for the school's annual Senior Citizens' Luncheon, and each had a distinct reaction as they arrived. Yellow school buses conveyed the seniors from local retirement facilities like Heather Gardens and St. Andrew's Village to the school, and Overland students were waiting to welcome them as soon as they got off the bus.
OHS cheerleaders beamed and sang. Student council representatives and National Honor Society members offered handshakes and formal greetings. Students waved flags bearing the Overland logo and bore ear-to-ear smiles.
It all had the feel of an important ceremony, a fact that wasn't lost on the incoming guests.
"I feel like I'm living large," one senior said as they headed to the auditorium. "Thank you for welcoming us," another offered simply.
The Overland community has had time to perfect their heartfelt tribute to some of the most important members of the community. For the past 29 years, the school has faithfully hosted the Senior Citizens' Luncheon, an event that features live entertainment, good food and plenty of intergenerational dialogue.
This year, students from Overland's jazz band and jazz choir shared the stage with the Seniors '88, a choir composed of local vocalists. Administrators from Overland and the Cherry Creek School District's Leadership Team were on hand to offer a formal welcome to the visitors.
But the real stars of the event were the students and their guests.
"We love watching our students as they guide our guests in and have conversations with them. There's a real excitement between the students and the seniors," said Shari VanHaselen, activities director for Overland High School. VanHaselen has helped organize the event for the past 27 years. "It's not necessarily about the luncheon. It's about the relationships and the opportunities for the senior citizens to come into the high school and talk to the kids."
This year was no exception. As the seniors settled into their seats at tables spread across the cafeteria, students were quick to join them and kick off conversations. Over a hot turkey lunch, they talked about music, travel and life experience. They talked about careers as pilots, rodeo clowns and military officers. They talked about family, friends and loved ones lost.
Such dialogue had a deep impact for all involved. Students gained insights into lives well spent; seniors had a chance to share insights and impart wisdom.
"It's really interesting to talk to these seniors about their lives … It's been eye-opening," said Tanzilla Parnota, a 17-year-old senior. "They've done so many interesting things, stuff that I can only dream of doing," she added, citing a specific conversation with a former clown, musician and pilot. "I don't talk about me lot in these conversations. I like to listen."
That kind of attention meant a lot to attendees like Martha Baker, a resident of the St. Andrew's Village retirement community and a military veteran. Baker, who delivered the keynote address for the luncheon three years ago, shared stories about her service and her travels to Germany, France, Switzerland, Thailand, Vietnam and other countries.
Baker also offered insights as a longtime Aurora resident, telling stories about her arrival to the city with her husband more than 40 years ago, when the area surrounding the Overland campus was still largely undeveloped.
"This is fantastic. The more these students are exposed to our experiences, the more it will help them decide their future," Baker said. "There is so much out there to experience, and education is the most important thing for these students."