At VUHS, 89 graduate with songs and speeches

VERGENNES — This past Friday night, family, friends and community members packed into the hot and sweaty Vergennes Union High School gymnasium to celebrate the graduation of 89 students.
In the class of 2014, eight students graduated with honors, 10 belonged to the National Honor Society, and nine were members of the National Technical or Arts honor societies.
The event’s speakers, including students and faculty members, highlighted the students’ many academic, athletic and artistic accomplishments.
Ruby Dombek, class of 2014 salutatorian, delivered the welcoming address. After thanking family, friends and faculty, Dombek looked back humorously at her and her peers’ progress over the years.
“It seems so long ago that we entered this school as boisterous seventh-graders with poor hygiene, consumed by the wonders of Gmail chat,” she said. “By now most of us have mastered the use of the deodorant stick and moved onto more prestigious social media sites. Yet looking back, I cannot pinpoint the time that everything became so different.”
Dombek also offered some advice.
“Surround yourself with people that make you a better version of you,” Dombek urged her classmates. “Enjoy the little moments, and stay true. Fight for the underdog, the misfit.”
Senior Matteo Palmer then performed an original piece titled “Speechless” on the guitar. Palmer is an accomplished guitarist who recently released an album that has earned critical praise.
Thomas Lee Hodsden III delivered the valedictory address. He began his speech by casually taking a selfie photo of himself with the whole crowd in the background, drawing much laughter from the audience.
Hodsden then discussed the importance to him of the word ‘chisel,’ a motto that he picked up from a teammate at football practice and an overarching theme of his speech.
 “Everything we do shapes us and those around us in some way. Every choice we make plays a role in ‘chiseling the stone’ and forming us, who we are,” Hodsden reflected. “Like the stroke of a chisel, our actions cannot be undone. Words cannot be unsaid. Although the mark they make can be repaired with cement, with forgiveness, the actions and words always shape.”
Hodsden encouraged his fellow students to let adversity make them stronger, concluding, “I have faith that this class will do great things and chisel their lives to perfection.”
Three seniors performed “Edelweiss,” with Phoebe Plank and Joanna Tatlock singing and Ruby Dombek on the violin, and members of the VUHS chorus then sang “The Road Home.”
The seniors elected to have Tom Fontana, a school clinician, deliver the graduation address. Fontana contrasted the littleness of the “Little City” (Vergennes) to the size of students’ accomplishments.
The importance of “going big” was woven throughout his address, with Fontana emphasizing that “going big does not mean doing one thing one time, going big means seeing things through.”
Fontana praised the efforts of several graduating seniors who have “gone big,” including Anna Willenbaker, who owns her own small business; Devon Parker, who was elected student president of the state’s FFA; and basketball captain Brendon Huestis.
Fontana praised the courage of his students, which he has witnessed through his role as a trusted confidante.
“I have witnessed your bravery and your goodness. I know of students who have stared down demons, managed to keep trusting, and found ways to heal,” he said.
Fontana’s conclusion drew applause and nods of agreement from the audience.
“Going big means being afraid and acting anyway,” Fontana said. “I have seen so many of you do that.” 
Rowan Kamman, third honors, captured everybody’s attention with his challenge to the class.
“I want you, each and every one of you, to fail,” he said. “From failure comes growth and understanding, in a way that you won’t experience in any other situation.”   
Kamman reinforced what he said was the often-overlooked value of failure with a personal story of overcoming mental obstacles through rock climbing.
Initially, the challenges of climbing wore him down, but he said conversations with more experienced climbers and much practice helped him overcome his obstacles. 
“If I wanted to do a route, I pushed through the anxiety to do it. But I realized that if I hadn’t ever wavered in the first place, I wouldn’t have this new confidence. It was only through my initial failures on the rock that I gained this new mentality,” Kamman said.
Kamman told his classmates not to be afraid to fail.
“I want you to go through life making fools of yourselves, stumbling, and messing up, because this is how you grow as a person,” Kamman concluded. “And, if nothing else, failure shows you how to succeed.”
Departing Co-Principal Ed Webbley concluded the ceremony with congratulations and jokes about the seniors’ grueling graduation marching practices.
Webbley reflected on how far Vergennes had come in his nine-year stint as principal, thanking retiring superintendent Tom O’Brien and praising the teachers.
The biggest change in the past decade, Webbley reflected, has been the increased leadership of teachers.
“They’re advisers, they’re curriculum designers, they’re paradigm changers. They motor the school,” he said.
Webbley concluded by highlighting the camaraderie and celebration that was abuzz in family, friends and the newly minted graduates.
 “We’ve improved as a school,” he said, “but we couldn’t have done it without the support of the community and great kids.”
Look for a list of all the 2014 VUHS grads and more photos plus a look at what three former VUHS grads are up to in next Thursday’s edition.

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