VERGENNES — Speakers at this year’s Vergennes Union High School graduation invoked figures as varied as Harry Potter, Harvey Fierstein and Walden Project founder Matt Schlein.
Following advice, reflection and music from peers and teachers, 91 seniors crossed the auditorium stage this past Friday evening to accept their diplomas and move on to the next stage in their lives.
Salutatorian Isabelle Langrock in her welcoming address likened the transition to watching the final installment in the Harry Potter movie series, which is due to come out next month.
'Tis the season (for graduation)
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“I could have talked about Hamlet,” she said, “but this series mimics our own experience. We may not go to school in a castle or learn about the dark arts, but we learned what mattered to us and how to fight for it, even when things are grim — although generally what we fought against was never as scary as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
Langrock looked back on the routines of high school with some sadness.
“There will be no more striding down the halls toward practices, friends or, perhaps saddest of all, science club,” she said.
For her final thought, Langrock did turn to Shakespeare.
“We know what we are, but we know not what we may become,” she said. “Today I welcome you to the class of 2011’s graduation and to our first steps toward learning who we may be.”
Valedictorian Hannah Sturtevant, for her part, started out by discussing her indecision upon learning that she would be delivering a speech during the graduation ceremony.
“I didn’t know where to start,” she said. “Then someone told me to just be myself. I remember this advice only because I immediately discounted it.”
But, she said, that was the truth that emerged when she sat down to write the speech.
“It’s so easy … to try to shape yourself into what someone else wants you to look like, act like, talk like, whether that someone’s a person — a parent, a pastor, a peer — or an institution — a school, a church, a sports team. It’s so easy to let others define you,” she said. “I have.”
Whether it’s body image or labeling or name-calling, she said, few of her peers have lived without fear of being judged, and most have unfairly judged others.
“Harvey Fierstein once said, ‘Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life. Define yourself,’” said Sturtevant.
Sturtevant explained that when she found the quote, she wasn’t sure who Harvey Fierstein was.
“As it turns out, Harvey Fierstein is not only a female impersonator — he’s also an actor, a playwright, a Tony Award winner ... as well as being one of the first openly gay men in Hollywood. Apparently, Fierstein really lives by his philosophy.”
Sturtevant said these pressures would persist even in the next phase of life.
“We will all face pressures to conform to a certain image or to hide parts of our identity from others,” said Sturtevant. “But hopefully we’ll stay true to ourselves, whether that self is dressed in drag or Carhartts or anything in between.”
After performances of “Lean on Me” by the graduation chorus and “I’m Not Going to Cry,” by Abigail Campono, visual arts teacher Jeffrey Spencer took the stage to give his graduation address.
He summoned an enthusiastic round of applause from the graduates for their friends and family, noting that friends and family are often the last on the list of people to thank, though they are often the ones who need mention.
“Because friends are often mentioned last,” he said, “I think I’ll concentrate on them as a topic.”
So Spencer launched into a list of some friends — all teachers at VUHS — and the lessons they’ve taught them.
Spencer concluded with Walden Project founder Matt Schlein, who he said has taught him to view life as a cycle.
“For every extreme of low you feel, there’s going to be an extreme high, and there’s really no way around that. It’s always in our best interest to ride out the waves,” he said. “It’s Matt repeating it to me that reminded me. Which is why friends are so important.”
He acknowledged the students eager to collect their diplomas.
“You’re all anxious to get off that stage, put your spinning wheels to the ground and head first into life,” he said. “So my final, most heartfelt wish is this: May each of you work hard to keep the friends you have. May each of you make quality friends in the future. And may each of you bring the best to your own circle of friends.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.