Mt. Abe speakers drive home point with motorcycle
BRISTOL — The grandest entrances are usually reserved for the senior prom.
Not this year at Mount Abraham Union High School, where commencement speakers Geoff Booth and Caroline Camara roared up to the graduation stage on Saturday atop a Harley Davidson motorcycle and delivered a high-octane message to the 149 member of the class of 2010.
For Booth, a maintenance and grounds official at the school, the Harley Davidson proved a valuable prop for the theme of his speech — “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” He explained that when he first arrived at the school a few years ago, some were quick to judge him for his hardscrabble appearance, including tattoos, a shaved head and an occasional steely glare.
But Booth quickly established a positive rapport with students, helping them learn from some of his life’s lessons while coaching some of them in football.
Booth told the crowd on the lawn at the Bristol school — a huge tent protected all from an occasional light rain — that he, too, used to judge people by their appearance. He recalled being laid off from a Connecticut shipyard a decade ago and visiting an employment counselor who did not inspire confidence upon first glance.
“This man was lacking in hygiene, stained shirt, cigar smoke-filled room, badly tied tie; you name it,” Booth recalled. “Four hours with this man, I had already judged and basically had no respect for him.”
But at the end of the session, the counselor had told Booth he would support him in whatever new field he chose, but recommended that he “should be working with kids.”
It proved a prophetic observation that demonstrated the man knew what he was talking about in spite of his disheveled appearance, according to Booth.
“This is one of the greatest days of my life, if not the best day ever,” Booth said of his selection as commencement speaker. “Thank you for not judging me based on my appearance, and allowing me to share, coach and allowing me to be a part of your lives.”
Camara, a Mt. Abe science teacher, urged Mt. Abe’s new crop of graduates — including her son, Craig — to go into the world and help address some of the many pressing environmental problems, including air, soil and water pollution, as well as the growing energy crisis.
“The globe, the Earth, the human population is begging for you to figure out what it means to be a human being at a time when most of the living species are declining, and that decline is accelerating,” Camara said.
“The expectations on you are piling up by the hour.”
She urged each graduate, during the ensuing 24 hours, to stand in front of the mirror and hold up their diploma. Camara said the graduates should see three images as they stand at the mirror: Themselves, and by extension the people who have supported them along the way; their diplomas; and the blank, reverse side of their diplomas. But she added the blank side of the diploma symbolically features a hidden message that reads “You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring.”
Valedictorian Anna Pierattini, celebrated the connections she had forged with other students and adults while in high school. She said such friendships should be valued and nurtured. Pierattini reeled off a list of around a dozen fellow students whom she got to know better during her senior year. She made a point of reciting some of the specific attributes of each of her new friends.
“Each one of them has something so spectacular about them,” said Pierattini, a straight-A student and accomplished artist who will be attending the Hendrix College in Arkansas.
“I try to imagine my life without them and it would be a very, very boring senior year,” Pierattini added. “Appreciate the people you know — your teachers, your friends, your family.”
Salutatorian Reed Hanson, who will study engineering at the University of Vermont, thanked the family, friends, teachers and fellow students who helped him navigate his way through Mount Abe. He concluded his speech with a limerick:
“In your minds, where an epic is drawn,
where these years are reflected upon,
have no worries, my friends,
for the fun never ends,
and together we will all float on.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].