Principal Kepes, Mount Abe graduates bid a fond farewell

BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School graduation not only signaled the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of 123 seniors who received their diplomas on Saturday; it also marked a major transition for this year’s commencement speaker — none other than MAUHS Principal Andy Kepes, who will be moving on after five years as the school’s top administrator, cheerleader and comedian.
“It has been a wonderful experience sharing my last big public performance as principal with such an exceptional group of young men and women,” Kepes told the graduates, with whom he shared the spotlight before a sea of spectators under a massive tent on school grounds.
Kepes opened his speech with a comedic sketch featuring MAUHS Adviser Todd Goodyear. The pair took some “selfies” on stage and bantered back and forth through the use of “hashtags,” a staple of Twitter parlance. Through laughs, Kepes said he planned to think about his professional future, while spending more time with family and having some fun this summer.
He urged the graduates to be patient and not give in to anger when dealing with others.
“It is my experience that being calm and cordial during times of disagreement leads to less conflict and more ‘win-win situations,’” he said. “It isn’t easy, but taking a deep breath and trying to see someone’s point of view and keeping calm during heated discussions will serve you well at the workplace, in school, and especially with relationships.”
He encouraged the students to become lifelong learners.
“If you want to do well in school or become the best employee possible, jump into the learning with both feet,” Kepes said. “Always be looking to learn new things and find ways to improve your skills. It will make you a better student or employee and will make the process much more enjoyable.”
Kepes stressed the importance of seeing the lighter side of things.
“Being able to find the humor in a situation is a great skill,” he said. “It makes you realize that the current crisis is not the end of the world and it too shall soon pass. Finding a bit of humor helps you relax and refocus.”
In closing, he offered the class of 2014 three bits of advice as they move on to further education or transition into the workforce: “You catch more flies with honey,” “The person doing the work does the learning,” and “Develop your sense of humor.”
Valedictorian Addy Campbell and Salutatorian Natalie May both noted in their speeches how proud the Mount Abe class of 2014 should be of its accomplishments. Members of the class this year launched new extra-curricular clubs, performed a lot of community service and work-study assignments, and won state titles in three varsity sports. Both Campbell and May were straight-A students during their respective high school careers.
“We leave big shoes to fill not only in raw talent, but also in leadership, sportsmanship, and school spirit,” Campbell said of the group. “Our class is marked by a distinctive personality of impish humor, chivalry, intelligence, and motivation. Behind me sits a group of people that future girlfriends and boyfriends will be proud to take home for dinner. We are multi-talented, a good time, and absolutely full of it.”
She also lauded the compassionate nature of the five-town community. When Campbell experienced a health scare that required her to be hospitalized for a long spell, she received steady visits and cards from classmates, teachers and people she had never even met.
“I watched girls’ basketball become Division II State Champions — again — on livestream from my hospital bed, tuning in just in time to see my friend’s mom hold up a get-well sign for me in front of the cameras,” Campbell recalled. “Cards of all kinds came pouring in, decorating the bulletin board on my side of the shared hospital room … I had droves of visitors, teachers and friends alike. People’s grandmothers whom I had never met wanted to pray for me. Whole towns were praying for me.”
Campbell was known throughout her high school career for being an environmentalist. She helped institute a food-waste composting program in concert with the MAUHS cafeteria. Her remarks touched upon the importance she places on conservation and renewable energy.
“We are a generation defined by the problems we will have to solve, and I firmly believe that the first step in tackling the environmental messes we have stumbled upon is realizing our place,” Campbell said. “We are all just animals, too, and we need to stop viewing ourselves as a species apart from nature when we are really, rather, a part of it. Once we have acknowledged this, the issues of conscientious sustainability become immediate, because we are no longer removed.
“I ask that you remember this always, and that you let yourself be deeply affected by these truths, even though they are difficult to carry. I ask that you look to simplify your lives, that you strive first to reduce, then to reuse and recycle. Tread lightly. Remember that man is just another creature in the kingdom.”
May credited the nurturing Mount Abe community for providing her with the inspiration and support she needed in becoming a successful student.
“Mount Abe is all that I have ever known, and so I have often taken for granted the unique, closely knit environment that we foster here,” she said. “I understand now how lucky we are to have grown up how we did. There are countless things about our school and the community that we are a part of that seem second nature to us; things that, in fact, are incredibly special; things that should be remembered and celebrated.
“So let us celebrate Edgar the Eagle, ‘milk, fruit, or juice, doing ‘thousands’ with Mr. Braves, white-outs, and chants that go something like: ‘You think you’re better than the Eagles but you’re not (clap, clap).’ … May we celebrate card games in the library, three state championships in one year, prom on an alpaca farm, and packed auditoriums screaming for our very own Greasers and Fezziwigs.”
She exited the stage quoting Winnie the Pooh, a fanciful literary character that she, her classmates and generations of other Mount Abe graduates had met long before walking into through the school doors for the first time:
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Look for a list of all the 2014 Mount Abe grads and more photos plus a look at what three former MAUHS grads are up to in next Thursday’s edition.

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