As soon as they stepped off the bus at Overland High School on Aug. 30, these passengers were treated like rock stars, like visiting dignitaries.
Overland Cheerleaders and Poms lined up in rows to form a gauntlet to greet them. Honor students waved and cried their welcomes as the visitors made their way to the school's cafeteria entrance. The whole welcome ceremony had the feel of a once-in-a-lifetime celebration, an acknowledgement of a unparalleled honor.
Those receiving the warm reception seemed surprised. They were seniors from the Overland community; citizens from every walk of life who'd accepted a simple dinner invitation. Many didn't expect the kind of royal treatment they received as soon as they stepped on to school grounds.
For more than 30 years, Overland has made a point of offering senior citizens a sense of warmth and welcome for the school's Annual Senior Citizen Dinner event, and this year was no different. Dozens of seniors reported to the school on a Thursday evening for a meal prepared by the school's food service staff and served by students. The evening also featured performances by Overland student musicians, as well as an appearance by Seniors 88, a local choir composed of senior singers.
According to Suzie Ruiz, an assistant in Overland's activities office, the pomp and ceremony of the event had a specific purpose.
"They're greeted from the minute they step off the bus … This lets the teenagers and the elderly mesh in a positive setting," Ruiz said. "What I've heard from the seniors is that they love the fact that they're greeted so warmly. They're welcomed with a smile; students mingle with them and talk to them. They just love that interaction with the students."
That one-on-one interaction with Overland students held a special appeal for Larry and Carla Kier, Aurora residents who have been attending the school event for the past 10 years. Larry Kier, who first attended the senior event with his own parents, said mingling with the students is a highlight of the annual celebration.
"It's fun to talk to the kids and get information on what plays and concerts are coming up at the school," said Kier, an Aurora native who lives blocks away from the Overland campus. "I like to hear where the students are planning on going from here," Kier added, pointing to his own experiences and his career as a police officer. "They don't believe some of the things that I've seen."
Most of all, Kier said he appreciates the hope and positivity he gains from speaking to students.
"Seeing these kids and talking to them, you get to see how many of them are headed in the right direction," Kier said.
Leena Elmiladi, a 17-year-old senior, was one of the Overland students who made the rounds of the tables set up in the cafeteria and helped served food. She also took time to engage in conversation with attendees, and gained some compelling perspective in the process.
"I like talking to these seniors, I like hearing their perspective and interacting with them," Elmiladi said. "They talk about how much they appreciate being welcomed, how they feel like part of the community. Everyone is so nice."
That kind of firsthand exchange between members of different generations is what makes the annual event special. Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Scott Siegfried was on hand to acknowledge those connections, and thank the attendees for offering firsthand insights from their years of experience.
"It's an extraordinary thing," Siegfried said. "It reminds me of the incredible legacy that you have provided for us. Thank you for passing on who you are and what you believe in.
"It's part of what makes us great."