Alum brings acrobatics to VUHS

VERGENNES — A few lucky students at Vergennes Union High School laid down their pencils and math books on Monday for a special assembly in the middle school gym.
Theo Spencer, a 2006 graduate of the school, returned to his alma mater to take students down the path that led him from a state champion track star at VUHS to an acrobat studying circus art at the University of San Marcos in Argentina.
“When you think of VUHS students, do you think of circus performers?” said social studies teacher Roberta “Cookie” Steponaitis, who put the assembly together and introduced Spencer. “It’s a different path, but the point is that VUHS students span the globe.”
Steponaitis used the presentation to emphasize to the students the importance of finding a passion.
“I knew Theo a long time here and he never said anything about acrobatics. But it’s all about finding your passion, finding your place and finding what make life thrilling for you,” she said.
During a brief speech to the students, Spencer stressed the importance of traveling.
“There are a lot of amazing things here in Vermont, but you need to go outside of the area to really appreciate it and understand why this is such an amazing place,” he said to 20-plus VUHS students during one of several presentations. “If you go to a foreign country, you realize that something like maple syrup doesn’t exist, and one misses that a lot.”
The two-year acrobat told students to never take the facilities at VUHS for granted.
“Going abroad also allows you to appreciate this school. If you go to education institutions in other places, it’s tiny and there are very few resources. The kids play with sticks, and they certainly don’t have climbing walls,” he said, pointing to the elaborate climbing wall constructed in the gym. “We’re very privileged and very lucky.”
After graduating from VUHS, Spencer moved to New Orleans to study economics at Tulane University. Spencer traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, during his junior year of college, but instead of taking political economics classes as planned, he fell in love with acrobatics after meeting a Brazilian trapeze expert at dinner one night. He changed his major to linguistics upon returning to Tulane and graduated with departmental honors.
Then he enrolled in the circus art program at the University of San Marcos. The school only admitted 21 students out of a pool of 200.
On Monday, the 23-year-old relayed his story to wide-eyed students while flipping and twirling on a long piece of fabric strung through a carabiner hanging from the ceiling.
Dressed in rolled-up, loose khakis and a long-sleeve shirt, Spencer gave a 10-minute demonstration of basic tricks he uses while performing. One trick, the helicopter, induced gasps as the nimble acrobat climbed to the top of the fabric before spinning to within inches of the ground.  
A mixture of pleading from Spencer and prodding by Steponaitis enticed a few timid VUHS students to try their hand at the high-flying acrobatics. Under Spencer’s watchful eye, the lucky students learned to climb into circus positions.
Spencer returned to VUHS on his summer break from the University of San Marcos, having finished his first of three years. Once he completes his studies in Argentina, he will have a second undergraduate degree.
While he loves to perform, his mother, Carol Spencer, said he really wants to teach.
“What he did yesterday is really where his heart lies,” Carol Spencer said. “He would like to open a school where any type of person who wants to succeed at this kind of thing could.”
Theo Spencer called the presentations successful and said he welcomed the opportunity to give back to the school that helped him.
“VUHS gave me a lot of tools that have allowed me to do this (acrobatics),” he said. “If you want to push yourself and you want to go places, the school accommodates you.”
Intern Kyle Finck is at [email protected].

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