BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School sent 126 graduates into a very soggy world on Saturday, amid advice that they should cherish the memories they made on campus and that they should thank the many people who nurtured them through their academic years.
Unrelenting rainfall failed to dampen the spirits of the throngs of relatives, friends, teachers and students who assembled beneath a large tent that had been raised east of the school building.
'Tis the season (for graduation)
Read about the other Addison County high school graduations!
That building was a focal point of Mount Abe history teacher James Ross’s commencement address.
Ross, who recently announced his retirement after 31 years at Mount Abe (and 39 overall as a teacher), told students that although they will never again set their feet on the Bristol campus as high school students, they will forever keep memories forged within the walls of Mount Abe.
Ross’ noted his earliest memories of the building reach back to the late 1960s, when it first opened and he served initially as a student teacher.
“The ‘Old Girl’ was as bright and shiny as a new penny,” Ross recalled. “I was exhilarated … Imagine doing your student teaching in the top facility in Vermont — maybe even New England ... all electric ... a planetarium ... it was heaven.”
Ross returned to Mount Abe in 1980 to begin his long teaching run. He recalled a serious of humorous and touching memories he compiled during teaching career, including the refrigeration-style air conditioning system crashing on a hot June day; a student putting a tack on his chair, though he got the last laugh; and a series of student achievements in both academic and athletic pursuits.
“I think back to so many years ago when a student knocked timidly on my door and replied ‘I want to learn,’” Ross said. “I let him in, had him sit in my chair and even gave him my Coke from my lunch.”
Ross noted the Mount Abe building that he saw brand new during the late 1960s now bears signs of wear-and-tear that are demonstrative of the many students and teachers who passed through its halls and made countless memories there.
“There is a special form of dignity that has grown from the experiences and energy of the thousands of human beings who have filled this building over the past four decades,” Ross said. “It pervades every room and hall.”
He added the Mount Abe building, at this point, has earned the right to be considered to have a spirit.
“This spirit has been laid down carefully and invisibly by every student ... every teacher, every play, every class, every experience by all of us who have ever called it home,” Ross said. “Each of you in the class of 2011 has made your contribution ...
“Rejoice in having given your special memories to Mount Abraham and someday it will come to you as it has to me that memories are actually our most treasured possessions.”
Valedictorian Yuki Davis of Bristol urged her classmates to be open-minded as they enter the workforce or post-secondary education. Davis acknowledged that the school community had changed her and that being open to diversity and different points of view helped bring about that change.
“Remember this as you move forward: be open-minded,” Davis said. “You’re going to be challenged throughout the rest of your lives in ways you can’t even imagine, across all fronts. You can’t learn and you can’t live if you’re closed off.”
Davis acknowledged being shy during her high school years. She acknowledged, in retrospect, that she might have missed out on some experiences for having been introverted.
“I came to Mount Abe being the ‘quiet leader’ who only spoke in class when sought out by the teacher and was more of an observer than anything else,” Davis recalled. “I know that this has hindered me greatly throughout my high school career. If I had only opened myself up more over these past four years, I definitely would have left high school with fewer regrets — the greatest of which is my regret of not knowing all of you as well as I would have liked.
“So, class of 2011, learn from my mistakes: If opportunity comes a-knocking, always say yes. If you do so, you will undoubtedly live the fullest life surrounded by the most incredible people. By opening yourself, you could be changed by people in the same way I was changed by all of you.”
Salutatorian Aliza Kamman of Lincoln spoke of how she and her classmates successfully adapted to the challenges of high school with the help of each other, family, teammates and school officials. Helping her get her message across was fellow senior Claire Stetson, who sang portions of the song “For Good” from the Broadway musical “Wicked” during key moments of the speech.
“Whether teachers, friends, coaches, or teammates, they have helped us to grow far beyond the classroom and to become ourselves,” Kamman said. “No matter which way we look, there is someone there to guide us, support us, or help us through the hard moments in life. The community that we have grown up in has become much more than a community, it has become a home. It has become a place where we feel comfortable being ourselves and reaching out to touch the lives of others.”
Kamman called upon some or her fellow graduates to recite the name of a person who had greatly influenced them.
“Each and every person who has helped us get this far has left their mark, and their lessons will carry us the rest of the way,” she said. “We are better people because of the time we have spent together, and we need to remember that. No matter where our lives lead us now, we have all been changed for good.”
Stetson put an exclamation point on that thought through song:
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you.