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High school comes to a happy finish for 111 VUHS grads

VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School celebrated the many achievements of the 111 members of the class of 2013 in a moving commencement ceremony this past Friday evening at the high school gymnasium. 
Valedictorian Morgen Clark recalled for the packed house her experience arriving for the first day of high school with a bad case of nerves, which were soothed by a friendly and welcoming classmate. She said that firsts, challenges and triumphs had marked their high school years and that through it all, her classmates had maintained “fun-loving, easy-going attitudes and hard work ethics.”
“Whenever something didn’t work out in this class, we found another way; because, for this class, failure has never been an option,” Clark said. “Albert Einstein once said, ‘You never fail until you stop trying,’ and these words describe the attitude of me and my class through high school.”
“Failure” was surely the last word on the tip of anyone’s tongue on Friday. The VUHS senior class had given the school plenty to be proud of, according to the many adult speakers who offered words of praise, encouragement and wisdom to the soon-to-be graduates. The seniors were praised for their work ethic and strong class solidarity as well as the academic and athletic distinctions they had brought to the school.
One of the highlights of the evening was the unfurling of two new banners high on the walls of the gymnasium. One honored track and field state champion Jon Welch, and the other commemorated the Commodores’ Division II boys’ basketball championship victory.
“It was one for the ages,” said coach Peter Quinn of this year’s basketball state champs. “It was magical.”
The senior-laden basketball team, whose return from the championship game in Barre had been capped off with a lively and impromptu town-wide parade, received a standing ovation from the audience as they unfurled their banner.
“This generation, this senior class, they get bad press,” said longtime teacher Lee Shorey, who gave the graduation address. “They’re the ‘Me, me, me’ generation according to Time magazine — they don’t care, they don’t share, they are unemployed.”
But Shorey said nothing could be further from the truth about the Vergennes seniors. She recalled something that a former student, Rory Jackson, had said during a school trip to Ghana, where Jackson and his family have started a school: “We are placed on this world to help each other.”
“What I’ve seen in this class is friendships that do just that,” Shorey said. “This class helps each other. This class keeps each other safe … And I think all of you here have jobs, had jobs, or will soon be getting jobs.”
Shorey advised the graduates to continue keeping each other safe, and to keep the lessons learned from the school’s five guidelines — be present, be respectful, be kind, challenge yourself and have personal integrity — as they moved through the adult world.
“And take another guideline,” she added, “something that was told to me: Keep your sense of humor intact. Keep the fun and the games.”
Justus Sturtevant, third honors, presented a challenge to the class of 2014.
Sturtevant told a story of a young boy without a left arm whose martial arts instructor would only teach him one move. Though the boy was doubtful and worried that his limited knowledge and physical handicap would put him at a distinct disadvantage, he won a tournament using just one martial arts move (punch line: The teacher knew that the only way to deflect that one move was to grab the attacker’s left arm).
“It’s up to you how you deal with the difficulties you face,” Sturtevant told the junior class. “If you push through them, if you bounce back every time you fall down, you’ll begin to find that it’s those very hardships that are the greatest lessons in life. Until you fall, you can never learn to walk. But if you stay on the ground you won’t learn either. It is often said that adversity is the grindstone of life. So, class of 2014, I ask you: Will it grind you down or up?”
In the last speech of the evening, Principal Ed Webbley also had a word of advice for the seniors, whom he fondly called the “huggiest bunch” he had ever come across. He urged them to grow up and have a houseful of books in order to inspire their children to be strong learners in turn.
Webbley said that while reading recently, “It hit me like a thundercloud that sometimes we get too complicated about what is education.”
The way to write is simply to sit down and do so and the same is true for reading, Webbley said. And he had found in his own experience that the best education came from books.
“The best reading country in the world is Finland and they have no standardized tests,” Webbley said. “You’ll be parents someday. Have vibrant, rich books in the house.”
Then Webbley officially presented the class of 2013. Caps flew in the air as the new graduates danced to a robust hip-hop tune. When the song segued into formal music, the new graduates gathered themselves and walked through the crowded room full of friends and family, then out into the adult world.

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