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More to MUHS graduates than the numbers

MIDDLEBURY — The 148 Middlebury Union High School graduates on Saturday were showered with raindrops; awards; more than $120,000 in college scholarship money; inspirational messages from administrators and, especially, three of their peers; and cheers and applause from the more than 1,000 people gathered at the Memorial Sports Center to honor the seniors’ rite of passage.
The first speaker on the podium, MUHS Class of 2010 president Emma McDowell, fittingly talked directly to the tissue-bearing parents, family members and friends there to watch the graduates accept their diplomas.
“I cannot think of a better way to celebrate our accomplishments than you being here with us,” said McDowell. “And I know I speak for the whole class when I say that your presence makes today even more exciting and memorable.”
She spoke on behalf of a class that overwhelmingly plans to continue its education. According to an MUHS survey, the seniors will put that generous scholarship money to good use at a variety of universities, liberal arts colleges, and vocational or technical schools — 115 of them plan to pursue some form of post-secondary education.
Of the 148, 20 earned grade-point averages of 3.75 or better, and another 22 achieved GPAs of 3.5 or higher. Twenty earned membership in the National Honor Society, and another 20 in the National Voc-Tech Honor Society. Four have opted to serve the country in the military, and 11 expect to go to work full-time.
But the student speakers said those numbers don’t tell the story of the MUHS Class of 2010. Co-Valedictorian Kaitlyn Kirkaldy said she was proud to be a member of the class because of its strong track record of community service.
Kirkaldy singled out McDowell’s mentoring of a second-grader, Kayla Whittemore and Molly Clarke’s tireless volunteerism for the Special Olympics, Emerson Conlon’s efforts in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, Maggie West’s advice column for diabetic teens, Alora Kelley’s work for Hands for Honduras, Nora McKay and Schuyler Klein’s teaching of English in India, and Bethany Franklin’s fund-raising in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
“The willingness of our class to help those less fortunate than ourselves and our potential to continue to do so amazes me. We have extended a helping hand locally, nationally and globally already. I believe that this class knows life doesn’t begin after high school, but during it,” Kirkaldy said. “This outlook encourages and inspires me, because I want to study international relations to make my difference … and I know that they will motivate others as well.”
Kirkaldy saluted her classmates for their resolve to make an impact even before graduation.
“I applaud you, class of 2010, for knowing that high school isn’t just about waiting to begin life,” she said. “We have already started our lives as teenagers conscious of the world around us, willing and eager to help others in any way possible. Our class is truly incredible, and will continue to empower others with our determined and kind spirits.”
Co-valedictorian Connor Ross focused on other unquantifiable pluses offered by his classmates — their endearing personality traits. Ross quoted a passage from Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time.”
His peers fit that description, Ross said.
“I see 148 colorful characters who mix together in a big psychedelic cornucopia, each and every one of us hungry for the uncommon … we just conquered high school in our own, crazy fashion. And now we continue our lives in that same spirit, not content with the status quo,” he said. “Our mad spirit is what drives us and will make us the leaders of tomorrow, or at the very least, interesting to talk to at dinner parties.”
That spirit — what he called the “color, the texture, the weirdness” and the ability to “gloriously overthrow our own senior play” — is what his classmates should remember of their years at MUHS, Ross said, not necessarily just what they learned in the classroom. 
“Within three weeks I probably will not remember how to use L’Hopital’s Rule or conjugate a verb in the subjunctive. Well, to be honest, I have already forgotten how to do both of those things,” he said. “But there are more important things to take away from our experience here. Always remember the madness and the unpredictability that made our class different and fun.”
Salutatorian Craig Burt thanked the MUHS faculty for “inspiration,” but also pointed outside the classroom.
“Although we have gained much from our teachers, coaches, and families during high school, many of the most important lessons we have learned have come from one another,” he said.
Courage was one lesson, Burt said.
“High school is not easy. The fear of failure can seem overwhelming at times. Whether it is on a written test, making a team, or asking someone to dance, we worry about failing,” he said. “Yet, many of our classmates have shown me that failure is simply not an option. The members of the Gay/Straight Alliance have been fighting for social equality and acceptance for years. Some members of our class deal with chronic medical problems every day, yet excel and consistently make the honor roll.”
Teamwork was another lesson, Burt said, in running successful food drives, winning a sports title, supporting Haitian relief efforts and shrugging off the controversy surrounding the change of directors on the senior play to put on a well-received production.
“Working together, we have exceeded even our own expectations,” he said. “We all have the ability to accomplish great feats if we act as a team, whether at college, in the military, or in the workplace.”
Burt also paid tribute to class members’ work ethic, “unconventional” approaches to life, and diverse talents, which he noted ranged from the culinary to the medical fields, from running to painting.
Those varied approaches and skills made the whole stronger and wiser, he said.
“Our differences are what have allowed us to learn so much from one another during these past four years. I think that we all can agree that our time at MUHS gave us plenty of adventures,” Burt said. “More than anything, though, we always had each other, and nothing matters more than that.”
Write to reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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