Champlain Valley Union High School’s graduates, in red caps and gowns, buzzed with excitement as they gathered at the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gym Friday to collect their diplomas and turn their tassels.
Family and friends watched as the St. Andrews Pipeband of Vermont played while all 303 graduates made their way into the gym. The sea sea of red congregated in the middle of the gymnasium. Some students decorated their caps with witty quotes or their new college colors.
“We will pause to reflect, to express gratitude, to celebrate both their challenges and triumphs, of their march to an independence that is as rich and varied as they are,” Principal Adam Bunting said as he kicked off the celebration.
Senior Benjamin King’s speech began by reminding the seniors that change is inevitable, and good.
“New is not always bad. Different is not always comfortable,” King said. “But if high school has taught us anything, it’s that no matter what class, what grade, what situation, we can all find our people.”
Hayley Clos and Alexander Lynn presented the senior gift of $6,000 to CVU for the Sustainability Hub. The class chose that program to receive the gift because it “expands learning far beyond the four walls of a classroom, creates more equity for students at CVU, and continues to address food insecurity through its farm-to-school program,” Lynn said.
Then the advice poured in from the speakers. However, not all of the experiences they shared were glamorous or Instagram-worthy. The students poked fun at themselves, acknowledging that their experiences helped get them to where they are today.
“The person standing in front of you is a typical, and flawed, human being,” senior Iris Manning revealed, before telling the audience about rejection she faced in the college search process.
“I promise I’m not telling you this because I’m remotely qualified to give life advice, but as someone who likes to process out loud I thought it would be fitting to reflect my process with all of you,” Manning said, adding that she realized it was up to her to craft her own experience.
Willow Goldberg shared an anecdote about how she fell down a hill on her way to take care of CVU’s goats. However cold she was from falling in the snow that morning didn’t deter her from continuing to take care of the goats through the year.
Christine O’Donnell, a CVU teacher of 43 years who is retiring this year, was the guest speaker. She shared that her life didn’t happen the way she had thought it would 43 years ago. She hoped there would be adventure and travel. Instead, she ended up with the same job, living in the same house, and married to the same man for 43 years.
However, she said, she realized she could make her own adventures while those constants remained.
O’Donnell told graduates to “make an adventure every day. It turns out there is adventure everywhere.
“Don’t break any laws, but snoop around a lot,” she said. She also reminded students to put down their devices: “Life isn’t at your fingertips. Life is out there.”
Senior Walter Braun closed out commencement with his spin on acknowledging mistakes. He said he hoped more students could learn to share their embarrassing stories.
“Growing up I always seemed to be at the tail end of a humiliating or embarrassing story,” Braun said. “Whether thinking it would be funny to incessantly ask personal questions about couples’ relationships at a family dinner, wearing a Batman cape until I was 5 years old – which actually happened – or showing up to school without an eyebrow because my mom accidently shaved it off trying to give me a haircut, one thing is certain…embarrassing myself seems to be something I’m pretty good at,” he said.
“Now more than ever it is on us, our graduating class, to embrace our imperfections, blunders, missteps and faults, and our rejections and the wincing cringe we get from embarrassment and failure, and to do so only by extrapolating the lessons that will have the best impact on us. CVU’s playful, uplifting, and unique environment has well equipped us with this ability.”