Retiring psychologist, Lydia Ontiveros has a hug for Mallorie Solem, after getting her Cougar Pride Award. The Cougar Pride Awards is an annual event, created by students a Lafayette Elementary, to honor exceptional school retirees in the Lafayette area.  Cliff Grassmick  Staff Photographer May 17, 2017

A group of 23 local graduating high school seniors came full circle Wednesday, receiving the same awards that they created 11 years ago as second-graders at Lafayette Elementary.

Lafayette Elementary’s Cougar awards were started in 2007 by students studying the Nobel Peace Prize in Julie Marquez’s advanced literacy class.

“It’s exciting to see the awards have lasted so long, and I’m really excited to get the award,” said Centaurus senior Mary Hanson, who’s planning to attend the University of Colorado Boulder in the fall to study aerospace engineering.

The awards honor “outstanding individuals and organization who contribute to our school and community.”

“When we first started, we would put all the nominees’ names on the board, and it was a battle to pick who would get the award,” said Marquez, who’s now Lafayette Elementary’s dean of students. “It’s pretty special to be chosen.”

Marquez said giving the awards this year to the seniors, along with four retiring Lafayette Elementary teachers, gave her the opportunity to reconnect with her former students and hear their future plans.

Most Boulder Valley School District seniors will receive their diplomas this weekend. Monarch High and Boulder Preparatory celebrate graduations on Friday; Boulder, Peak to Peak, Centaurus, Broomfield and Nederland high schools hold ceremonies Saturday; and Fairview seniors will graduate on Sunday.

The seniors at Wednesday’s awards ceremony said the prospect of graduating still feels surreal.

“It hasn’t hit me just yet,” said Peak to Peak senior Rachael Metzler, who’s planning to attend the University of Puget Sound and wants to become a physical therapist.

Several seniors said the highlight of the awards ceremony was connecting with friends who went to different high schools. While most of the seniors attend Centaurus, they also are at Monarch High, Peak to Peak Charter School, New Vista High and online schools.

“It’s nice to take a trip back before heading off,” said Centaurus senior Tegan Guess, who’s planning to attend South Dakota State to study nursing. “It’s so cool to see people I haven’t seen in a long time.”

While Maggie Reed said she will miss the enthusiasm of her Centaurus teachers, she’s ready start her college experience majoring in zoology at Colorado State University.

“You won’t know everybody,” she said. “You get to be on your own.”

Mark Hambach, a senior at Monarch High, is headed to Europe for six weeks with a friend before enrolling at Front Range Community College. He said he plans to get his basic classes out of the way before switching to the University of Colorado Boulder to major in computer science.

“I’ll miss all my friends, but I’m excited,” he said.

New Vista senior Jeffrey Bennett said he loved his school’s non-traditional approach to education and specialty classes, including a screenplay writing class.

“I kind of want to stay another year because there are going to be some great classes next year,” he said.

He’s most likely going to the University of Colorado Colorado Springs in the fall to study game design.

His advice for the Lafayette Elementary students who are at the start of their K-12 experience: “Don’t be afraid to be who you are.”