Mt. Abe seniors exit on high note

BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School’s 114 graduating seniors got a musical sendoff on Saturday, thanks to a theatrical speech from valedictorian Mary-Kate Clark that hit all the right notes.
But first, MAUHS Guidance Counselor Deb Van Schaack reeled off some of Clark’s academic achievements, which were truly impressive. For example, she noted that Clark was graduating with 35.5 course credits, which is 11.5 more than the school’s minimum requirement of 24. Clark earned those credits taking some of the school’s most challenging classes, maintaining better than an “A” average while playing varsity softball, volunteering at the Have a Heart Food Shelf in Bristol and being active with her church.
But Clark demonstrated yet another layer of her skill-set at Saturday’s graduation by performing her speech through a series of musical skits featuring some of her classmates. You see Clark, during her high school career, was also active in the a cappella singing group, jazz and as an actor in several Mount Abe school plays.
The audience quickly realized that Clark wasn’t going to deliver a stereotypical valedictory speech when they were invited to stand up and dance the “Hokey Pokey,” something Clark’s mom had recommended that she do back in seventh grade to “show how creative and funny” she was.
She and some classmates then broke into renditions of “Somebody’s Eyes” from the musical Footloose, to convey the fact that a teenager “can’t get away with anything” in a small town; “Stick to the Status Quo” from High School Musical, to emphasize that the new graduates should go outside of their comfort zones to learn new things; “Freak Flags” from Shrek the Musical, to encourage her peers to be individuals; “Breaking Free” from High School Musical On Stage, to denote how she and her classmates are breaking free of stereotypes in order to pursue their goals; and “We Go Together” from Grease, to signify how members of the class of 2015 will always be linked.
In between the segments of song and dance, Clark gave thanks to the teachers, family, friends and teammates whom she credited for helping make her high school career such a success.
“Class of 2015, you all will experience every emotion as you explore the possibilities of the world and its Creator,” she told the crowd in concluding her address. “My hope for each of you is to find love and joy throughout your journey, and that you are able to share it with old friends and new ones to come. Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody. Be proud of who you are and who you will become. And if this bittersweet time brings tears to your eyes today, just be grateful for what all of our parents were doing 18 years ago. Congratulations, Class of 2015: We did it.”
Clark will be attending Ithaca College this fall with the goal of a career in optometry.
It was particularly appropriate that Clark would share the stage on Saturday with Salutatorian Eliza Letourneau. The young women had been longtime friends and study buddies. They also attended many of the same classes together. Letourneau recalled that the pair, as middle schoolers, once talked about the potential of finishing at the top of their class.
“I had doubts that it would actually happen, but I never had any doubt that it was possible,” Letourneau said. “There has been unwavering support from all sides.”
In addition to being a straight-A student, president of the Senior Class Council, National Honor Society member and a 4-H Club member, Letourneau established herself as a leader on environmental issues. She led an environmental action group that initiated a school-wide composting program.
Letourneau is headed to Duke University to major in environmental science and policy.
“I will gladly take on the role of crazy environmentalist with a level of dedication unmatched elsewhere in my life, though perhaps not to the level of Edward Abbey’s George Hayduke, who was overflowing with zeal and regularly used explosives to make his point that human development was destroying the natural world,” Letourneau said. “My goal, the focus of my devotion, is not to blow up any bridges, but to inspire people to think about how their actions and lives affect our planet.”
She urged her classmates to be good custodians of a world they will some day leave to the next generation.
“Remember that the planet we live on is fragile and we are a part of its endless cycles,” she said. “As you interact with nature in whatever your career may be and in your daily lives, do not forget the beauty in the silent woods of Vermont at dawn while you wait for deer or as you hike our green mountains, and treat your environment with great care and respect.”
Like Clark, Letourneau thanked her classmates, teachers and family for nurturing her inquisitiveness and challenging her to achieve. But she also urged the greater Mount Abe community to not forget a young woman who should have been among those receiving a diploma on Saturday. Olivia Scott of New Haven was 16 when she took her own life on Oct. 9, 2013. Scott had allegedly been the victim of bullying.
“She lived her life with a distinct fervor and spirit in all of her endeavors and her presence is deeply missed here today,” Letourneau said.
Graduation was truly a homecoming for 2015 commencement speaker Rick Desorda. Desorda graduated from MAUHS in 1971 and last year retired after having spent 39 years teaching history at his alma mater. A perennial favorite of students, Desorda has delivered the commencement address at MAUHS more often than any other faculty member. He joked on Saturday that he never thought he would be back at Mount Abe in any official capacity and was shocked to hear that he’d finished first in the senior class’s ranking of prospective commencement speakers.
He took the stage feeling that Letourneau and Clark were tough acts to follow.
“You got the good stuff out of the way and now you bring this guy up,” he said in his trademark, self-effacing style.
Desorda encouraged members of the class of 2015 to look upon their graduation as a clean slate, and urged them not to worry if they had not yet chosen a career path.
“To all of you I say, you will find a path that fits who you are and what you want from life,” he said. “But you have to have a goal — your goal, not someone else’s. The Wall Street Journal in an article published five years ago said the average number of careers in a person’s lifetime was seven. But the article said that number was not set in stone, it could be more and it could be less. My point is that as you sit here today you may have a vision that could change as you move on in life. And for those whose vision is partly cloudy this morning you will find a career that will give you a sense of satisfaction and self worth. All of this may not happen overnight, but will happen over time.”
Desorda voiced high hopes for the newly minted graduates.
“I am not pessimistic about your future,” he said. “On the contrary, I believe that you and your generation are the right fit for moving forward and solving problems that will need to be solved in order for communities, local to global, to have a better life for all citizens.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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