Mount Abe sends off graduates but urges them to return

BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School bid farewell to the 122 seniors in the class of 2013 on Saturday, with a diverse group of speakers urging the newly minted graduates to have fun, make the world a better place, remain inquisitive and to return to Vermont someday.
The festivities were joyful, but somewhat bittersweet. The absence of longtime teacher Greg Clark, who died last year in a tragic traffic accident, weighed heavily on the minds of many graduates, some of whom sent a symbolic shout-out to “Clarkie” by writing his name on the tops of their caps. The class of 2013 dedicated its yearbook to Clark, whose sister Gretchen shook hands with students as they picked up their diplomas.
Class Valedictorian Isabel McGrory-Klyza, who will be attending Columbia University this fall, urged her colleagues to live life with passion.
“I hope you go out into the world with the belief that success and happiness are not defined by possessions and wealth, or by a virtual image of yourself,” McGrory-Klyza said. “I hope you take the time to enjoy and reflect upon the little things that often go unnoticed and unappreciated. I hope you make time for the people you love. I hope you never stop questioning. And I hope that you are not afraid to change the world in whatever unique, positive way that you can.”
She said people should not take things for granted — especially “the little things” that make life more joyful.
“These little things, these random acts of kindness and love, are where the true meaning of life lies,” McGrory-Klyza said. “I urge you, have a picnic outside and soak up the sun. Go barefoot. Watch old movies. Go to museums. Read. Make yourself Sunday brunch. Sleep in. Enjoy breathing. Eat fresh vegetables. Get excited by the first snow. Dress up for Halloween. Smell flowers. Celebrate life. Go forward with passion.”
She added she hoped her generation — dubbed the Millenials — would shed a reputation as being being apathetic, shallow, and narcissistic.
“It’s not too hard to see why we’ve been given this label,” McGrory-Klyza said. “The majority of the people I talk to are not alarmed by Google Glass, something that would allow people to literally be plugged in all the time. I urge you to put down the screen, which shows merely a reflection of a person or an object, and look at the real thing. Look at a peony. See how its petals dance when the wind blows, and how the light filters through the petals and exposes the plant’s veins. Can that be captured on Instagram?”
Salutatorian Forrest Wallace, who will be attending Middlebury College this fall, advised his fellow graduates to not let challenges defeat them, as he had allowed happen early in his academic career. He recalled having problems in 10th-grade American Studies. The class had been more rigorous than any he had taken before. He stopped doing the homework and his poor performance affected his mood and other aspects of his life.
But he was able to turn things around.
“With the encouragement and love of my parents I realized that I had to make a change,” Wallace said. “So, I worked to alter my outlook on life, waking every morning with excitement rather than apprehension. I was determined to enjoy every day, no matter what. While at first it took a concerted effort, soon happiness became my default. I found that my character changed when I was happy. I was nicer, calmer and more focused in school. I had more energy, and could manage stress much more effectively.”
He wished a similar epiphany for his classmates.
“Embrace each day as an opportunity to challenge ourselves, to grow and mature, to make mistakes and learn from them,” he said. “Greet each day with a smile, and don’t waste a minute of it. We can’t rewind time, we can’t redo life. Every day is a chance to enjoy ourselves, to have fun, to be happy, and to live with no regrets. A day spent unhappy is a day wasted, a day lost.”
Veteran Mount Abe teachers Melanie Stultz-Backus and Rick Desorda, this year’s commencement speakers, offered their own advice to students.
Stultz-Backus noted how recent world events — such as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and wars in the Middle East — had shaped the students’ lives, just as the Cold War, Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement had shaped hers’ and Desorda’s lives. And just as the graduates of the 1960s and 1970s brought forth technological advances, so will the class of 2013, she said.
“Your worldview has been influenced by the miraculous lattice-work of the Worldwide Web,” Stultz-Backus said. “The technological and digital virtuosity of your age creates instantaneous networks of communication. You are ‘natives’ of the information age, and because of your ease in it, you are powerfully equipped to comprehend it and to develop it for good.  Just as our generation embraced the trans-disciplinary nature of cybernetics, so will yours enlarge and refine the all-encompassing digital net.”
She encouraged students to use their hearts and minds in making the world a better place.
“Inventiveness, innovation and commitment: These characteristics have been common to every generation of visionary human beings,” Stultz-Backus said. “In the world you will fashion, your generous hearts will initiate a spirit of thoughtful design and will set a new standard for equity and opportunity.”
Desorda wished the students well in their future endeavors, but asked them — at some point in their lives — to return to Vermont.
“I want you to go out and gain knowledge, skills and a desire to solve difficult problems, sensitivity to the needs of people and come back to Vermont and help guide the state into the future that your generation is the best equipped to lead,” Desorda said.
“I honestly believe that my generation depends on you and your generation to be resourceful, hardworking, intelligent, collaborative and adaptable, for both of our generations to live their lives well,” he added. “For that to happen, we cannot afford having you leave the state permanently — you are much too precious of a resource to lose.”

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